TEHRAN, Iran — A top Iranian politician on Friday praised women who have spoken out on sexual assault, calling for action on gender-based violence following the arrest of a suspected serial rapist spurred by online accusations.
Iran has seen a recent rise in victims of sexual violence, rape, and unwanted sexual advances sharing their stories on social media, triggering an online campaign in the Islamic republic echoing the global #MeToo movement.
“Sadly, access to proper information and education is scarce and this prepares an environment for sexual violence and harassment,” said Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar.
“The fact that our girls talk seriously and with intensity about the issue is very valuable, even if it is painful,” she was quoted as saying by Borna news agency, affiliated with the youth and sports ministry.
Ebtekar also called on the judiciary to “forcefully confront” rapists and said the government is working on legislation against sexual violence to present to parliament.
Her comments come after Tehran police said on Tuesday they had arrested Keyvan Emamverdi, a former art student at Tehran University accused of sexually assaulting several students.
“The police encountered numerous complaints on social media that (Emamverdi) had harassed female students after luring them to his house,” said Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi, cited by state news agency IRNA.
Rahimi said the arrest followed “intensive investigations” and urged victims to press charges with the police, making assurances their identities would be kept secret.
At least 20 women had accused Emamverdi of assault on Twitter, mostly anonymously and using the #rape hashtag.
Several other public figures in Iran, including an academic, a prominent painter, an actor and an executive in the tech sector have also been accused on Twitter of sexual violence.
Emamverdi’s arrest was a rare move in the Islamic republic, where sexual violence is considered a taboo subject and authorities rarely take action on such cases without a private plaintiff.
If convicted, the charge of rape carries the death penalty.