Lacerated and bruised, young Iranians protest violent punishment by police


Iranians accused of infringing the strict moral code of the Islamic Republic are subject to violent, old-fashioned punishments such as lashings – and they’re uploading photos of their injuries to social media in a protest against the abuse. Our Observer received 20 lashes for drinking alcohol and speaks up here about the traumatic event.

Iran is one of the few countries that uses Sharia, Islamic law that is heavily based on the dogma of the Qu’ran. This strict adherence to an ancient legal code in Iran means that authorities resort to centuries-old forms of punishment.

The problem is that Iran is a young country, and its youth are becoming more and more Westernised in their behaviour. Many young Iranians don’t practise as strict a form of Islam as the authorities would like, and increasingly they are less religious. As a result, every week Iranian media publish stories about groups of young people arrested in ‘mixed’ parties – that is, parties with both men and women attending. A party with unmarried couples and alcohol flowing is a one-way ticket to punishment by Iran’s morality police – if they are caught. Often the punishment for this type of crime is “shallagh”, or the lash in Farsi.

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The actual number of young people being brought before Sharia law is probably far more common than local media report. In every town in Iran, arrests happen every day and have even become normal as a result. To try to raise awareness of the injustice of these violent punishments, the Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom, which first became known for posting daring photos of Iranian women without their headscarf, has recently published a litany of photos of young men and women displaying their wounds after having being arrested.

The photos are testament to the hours of torture that are inflicted on those arrested. Masih Alinejad, who runs the Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom, had to write, “These photos are too horrible, please stop sending them to me”. But according to our Observer, the worst part is not the physical pain. “It’s the pain caused by the insults and humiliation they put you through – that’s a pain that will never go away.”

All of the photos in this article come from My Stealthy Freedom.

"I now hate everything to do with religion"

Our Observer Sam (a pseudonym) was arrested and whipped for having drunk alcohol, in the central Iranian town of Isfahan.

A year ago I was arrested in the street. I had been drinking alcohol with eight other people, both men and women, at my house, and I had gone out to stock up on more bottles. I found myself at a Basij security checkpoint [Editor’s note: the Basij is the paramilitary branch of the Revolutionary Guards, the main security force of the Islamic Republic]. They could see that I had drunk something and they searched me – I had two litres of alcohol with me.

They started to insult me and hit me, then they took me somewhere that wasn’t a police station at all. There, the insults, punches and kicks came back in full force. Finally, after midnight, they forced me to clean their toilets.

The next morning, they took me to a real police station. I was better treated there but the police still refused to let me launch an official complaint against the Basij guards. They asked me where I had bought the alcohol and where I was planning on drinking it, but I didn’t say anything.

“I was so naive – but so were they”

The same day, I was sent to the courthouse. The hearing lasted only five minutes. Several times I wanted to say something to the judge, but he never let me speak, saying, “Shut up!” every time I tried to get a word in. They let me go with a warning. But a few days later, I got a letter demanding that I pay 300,000 tomans [250 euros] in fines and telling me that I had been condemned to 20 lashes. I just went to pieces. The lashes were unbelievably painful, a horror.

But at some point I realised that I had been lucky: none of my friends had been identified and arrested. If we had all been caught together, as well as punishing us for drinking alcohol, they would have also considered us “adulterous” because we were hanging out with the opposite sex. And for that the punishment is much worse – up to 80 lashes.

One week after the lashing, the pain had basically gone and I thought that the worst of it was behind me. That was so naive of me... I realised that the insults and the humiliation that I had suffered made me feel even worse. I will never forget the way they treated me. I will forever hate the justice system and the Basij. Honestly, I’m not the same person anymore. If they thought that this was going to teach me a lesson and make me respect Sharia, then that’s naive on their part!

Since that day, I hate everything to do with religion. I didn’t drink that much before, but now I drink at any available opportunity. Drinking alcohol has become for me an act of protest in the face of cruelty.


“They want to impose an atmosphere of horror in society”

Yaser Mirdamad is a specialist in Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

According to Iranian law, which is based on Sharia law, everyone who drinks alcohol should receive 80 lashes. But in the end, everything depends on the judge: it’s up to him to decide whether the guilty person can buy his way out of some or all of the lashes, and if the lashing is in public or not.

The idea of men and women being arrested during parties is not very clear. There is no pretext in Sharia law that allows authorities to punish people for having ‘mixed’ parties. It’s therefore clearly a political rather than a religious punishment, and is obviously designed to fight against a Western way of life. The authorities carry out lashings and make it as well-known as possible in order to impose an atmosphere of fear in society, particularly in the younger generations. However, in other countries, young observant Muslims go to parties where there is alcohol and they don’t drink it – that doesn’t pose any problem and never ends up with a lashing.

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