Iran rocked by abuse allegations against top Qur'an reciter

Iran rocked by abuse allegations against top Qur'an reciter ...
theguardian.com 28/10/2016 People

Keywords:#Ali_Khamenei, #Ayatollah, #Ayatollah_Ali_Khamenei, #BBC, #Iran, #Iranian, #Islamic, #Khamenei, #London, #Persian, #Saeed_Kamali_Dehghan, #Saeed_Toosi, #Theguardian.com

Complainants use banned media outlets to accuse Saeed Toosi of sexually abusing them when they were aged 12 to 13
Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent
Wednesday 26 October 2016 01.15 EDT
Iran has been shaken by scandalous allegations against a top Qur’an reciter, who is accused of sexually abusing underage trainees, in the first case of its kind to cast a spotlight on the taboo topic.
The allegations are unprecedented in the Islamic republic, where such figures are generally trusted by the public and claims of this nature are usually kept in the dark, with few victims known to have ever dared to come forward.
In the past week, at least three male complainants have given separate interviews accusing Saeed Toosi, a prominent qari (someone who recites Muslims’ holy book with a melodious sound), of sexual misconduct including rape while they were between the ages of 12 and 13.
The allegations first surfaced widely on social media, which in the absence of a free press have a huge reach in Iran. Some of the alleged victims then went public, speaking to Voice of America’s Persian TV network after their calls for justice fell on deaf ears in the Iranian judiciary.
Local agencies and newspapers, including the reformist Shargh and Etemaad, have also carried reports identifying Toosi as the alleged abuser.
Toosi has since issued a statement denying the accusations, which he described as “bogus and total lies” aimed at tarnishing the image of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
As a top reciter in the country and winner of two world Qur’an-reciting competitions, Toosi was a role model for many young enthusiasts, who would normally start memorising and reciting the holy script from an early age.
Toosi is known to have performed in the presence of Khamenei on various occasions, meaning that he was trusted by the leader’s inner circle.
According to VOA, four years ago several complainants filed a suit against Toosi, who was initially indicted, but charges were later dropped.
The complainants, who are from families with conservative religious backgrounds, eventually broke their silence and spoke to VOR, as well as the London-based BBC Persian service, because they lost hope in being able to bring the alleged abuser to justice. More alleged victims came forward, and as many as 10 people have now claimed abuse.
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Both VOA and BBC Persian are blocked inside Iran and regularly jammed, but millions of people watch the channels via illegal satellite streams.
One anonymous victim, whose voice was broadcast by VOR, said he was assaulted while on a Qur’an-reciting trip abroad with Toosi. “He touched my body while we were on the flight. He molested me,” he said. “When we arrived at the hotel, we were supposed to get separate rooms but he organised for us to get one room. I was only 12 years old. He betrayed me. While I was taking shower, he came in naked. I was in shock, I couldn’t scream, my mind was locked. He did his thing.”
A second victim said he approached Toosi because he was eager to learn from a master of Qur’an-reciting. “He took me to a public bathhouse, and there he did things on the pretext that he was giving me a massage. When we came out, he was frightened and pleaded with me not to tell anyone. I was in shock.” A third victim echoed the previous accounts by saying that Toosi, who is now 46, abused him sexually on the pretext of giving him a massage.
Sex is still considered a taboo subject in Iran. There is little public debate around the issue of consent or the protection of children in schools or among families.
In a country where consensual sex between adults outside marriage is forbidden, same-sex intercourse between non-homosexual individuals is rife, and many confuse homosexuality with bacha bazi: sex between a man and a boy. The Iranian judiciary has added to the confusion, considering both as lavat – same-sex intercourse – which is punishable by death. In cases where people have been sentenced to death in the country, it is often difficult to distinguish which involve gay men having consensual sex and which involve rape.
It is not clear what stage Toosi’s legal case is at with the Iranian judiciary. The publicity has forced the authorities to say that the case has not yet been closed and is still ongoing. The judiciary spokesman, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, said this week that plaintiffs included four victims and that the matter has been given to an experienced judge for review.
Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the judiciary chief, firmly defended his institution on Monday and, in comments seen as a warning to the victims, said those who who cooperated with “hostile media” – a reference to the banned TV networks – should be punished “so we know who is [loyal] to the revolution and who is not”.
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