“They put me on the ground and an agent placed a boot on my back. He kicked me in the stomach, tied my hands, lifted me by my arms, and then pushed me into a van.”
This is how Maryam, a 51-year-old protester, described the moment she was detained by Iranian security forces.
The woman was arrested last week in central Tehran, during protests that have spread across Iran since the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old who was arrested by the “moral police” in the Iranian capital on September 13 for allegedly violating the strict hijab (headscarf) rules.
Police say she collapsed in a detention center after suffering a heart attack, but her family alleges officers hit her on the head with a baton and slammed her into one of their vehicles.
Protests sparked by her death, led mainly by women, began with demands to end mandatory hijab laws.
But now they have turned into nationwide demonstrations against the leaders of Iran and the entire clerical establishment.
Despite the widespread internet shutdown, videos of protesters being arrested by Iranian security forces have continued to be posted on social media.
“It’s worse than what you see in these videos,” said Maryam, who is not her real name.
“I heard one of the commanders order his soldiers to be ruthless. Female agents are (equally) horrible. One of them slapped me and called me an Israeli spy and a prostitute.”
The BBC has seen videos of commanders ordering riot police officers to “have no mercy on the protesters and shoot them”.
Other videos verified by the BBC appear to show security forces shooting live ammunition at protesters and arresting those they can catch.
According to state media, more than 40 people have been killed during the unrest. Human rights groups report a higher death toll.
Authorities have not shared the total number of people who have been arrested.
However, the chief prosecutor of Mazandaran, a province north of Tehran, said thatl least 450 protesters they were detained only there.
Human rights groups say thousands of protesters are being detained.
“I pushed a security officer back and tried to run away, but very soon a second person and a third person arrived,” says Sam, a young protester from a major city. “After a few seconds, more than 15 agents beat me mercilessly”.
He added: “I felt the taste of blood in my mouth and the blows of a stun gun on my body. They put me on the ground, tied my arms behind my back and tied my feet with shoelaces.”
“One of the soldiers kicked me in the left eye while he was taking me (to the place) where they were holding the other detainees.”
The “brave” young
President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to “deal decisively” with the protests, which have now spread to most of Iran’s 31 provinces.
For many Iranians, Raisi is associated with the mass executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s, when he was one of four judges sitting on secret courts that sentenced them to death.
“They put me and the other detainees on the floor of a bus one on top of the other for an hour and a half,” says Sam.
“I was thinking about Raisi’s role in the execution of political prisoners, and pFor a moment I thought they could execute me”.
Raisi has insisted that those executed in the 1980s were sentenced in accordance with Iranian law.
And while the president is ultimately in charge of riot police and other law enforcement, there is no evidence that he has ordered them to kill people involved in this month’s protests.
Maryam said people detained alongside her continued to protest as they were taken to one of the main Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) facilities.
“There were other girls with me in the van, but they were much younger,” she said. “When I saw how brave they were, I composed myself. They started helping me.”
“They were yelling and taunting the officers. This generation is different from mine. They are not afraid”.
Photos and videos verified by the BBC showed relatives of arrested protesters lining up outside the notorious Evin prison in northern Tehran.
They were waiting to learn information about the detainees or present documents to secure their release on bail.
One person told the BBC that the authorities had warned them that did not make the arrest public of his relative “or his situation would get worse.”
But not all were transferred to the main detention centers. Many are held in small IRGC police stations and facilities, many of which are unknown to the public.
“They transferred us to a small police station. They were not prepared to receive so many people,” Maryam told the BBC. “They put at least 60 women, including me, in a small room. We were standing side by side and we could not sit or move”.
“They said we couldn’t use the toilet and if we were hungry we could eat our feces.”
“After almost a day, when we screamed and protested inside the room, they started threatening us that if we didn’t shut up, they would rape us.”
“Keeping spirits high”
Another woman arrested in one of Iran’s southern cities told the BBC that female security officers had threats of sexual assault.
“The agent who was checking us in at the detention center asked my name and called me a prostitute,” said Fereshteh, who is not her real name.
“When I complained, she said that if I continued she would ask one of the brothers (male prison guards) to do whatever he wanted (with me).”
Behzad, a protester who was detained in a major detention center in Tehran, says: “They kept more than 80 people in a small room. We were all angry and hurt.”
They confiscated our mobile phones and checked our photos, videos and messages to see if we had shared any news of the protest. If so, (they said they) would add it to our files.”
“The next morning, a judge came to greet us. They dropped the charges and released most of the teens.”
“But with the adults the judge asked short questions and decided our destiny based on that brief court session.”
Behzad said about 10% of the people he was detained with were released without charge, while the rest were released on bail.
Another protester who was held in custody for two days in Tehran told the BBC that despite “hostilities”, younger detainees they had tried to “keep their spirits up”.
“I was with protesters under the age of 25. Some had blood on their faces, but they were smiling, chatting and joking.”
“One of them asked me to smile and added: ‘We are victorious because we are right.’” (YO)