I feel more hope for Iran than at any time in the past 40 years — and more fear too. The regime assumed that brute force would crush the protests that have multiplied since the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September, but instead of backing down, people from all walks of life have joined Iranian women in the streets.
As the regime’s hold on the country slips, its barbarism has increased. Tens of thousands have been detained. Hundreds have been killed, including at least 60 children. After the gruesome public hanging of Majidreza Rahnavard this month, scores more demonstrators could face imminent execution.
The families of those who have disappeared into Iran’s prisons fear the worst. Many know first-hand how the regime treats its prisoners. When I was arrested for protesting against Iran’s gender apartheid in 1982, I was tortured so badly I was left paralysed for three weeks. Eventually, I escaped Iran and found sanctuary in the UK. Thousands of those I was imprisoned with were not so lucky.
In the face of such brutality, the solidarity shown by Iranians is humbling. In the city of Javanrud, bakeries are distributing free bread to protesters. Across western Iran, an underground network has developed, smuggling blood and medical supplies to wounded protesters. In the diaspora, hundreds of thousands have flooded the streets in cities from London to Los Angeles, showing their support.
Last month, the British government told the UN that “the UK stands with the people of Iran”. But those who have been forced to flee for their lives are yet to witness this solidarity in action. Newly released government statistics show Iranians to be among the top three nationalities seeking asylum in Britain. Like me, many have experienced torture; Iranians are also among the nationalities most frequently referred for treatment to Freedom from Torture, the charity that helped me when I arrived in this country. But rather than being welcomed with kindness, they are threatened with instant deportation for daring to ask for asylum.
At the same time, the Iranian embassy in London remains open and regime acolytes continue to operate in the UK. Last month, The Times revealed that over £100,000 was paid by the UK to Ayatollah Khamenei’s personal representative through the taxpayer-funded coronavirus furlough scheme.
If the government is serious about supporting Iran’s uprising, it should crack down on the regime’s activities in Britain and send Iranian diplomats home. But most importantly it should treat Iranians fleeing for their lives with compassion and support them to rebuild their lives in this country.
Nasrin Parvaz is an Iranian women’s rights activist and torture survivor
Like so many young Iranians, Yasin was abducted from his home in early October, after posting his support for the protesters to his more than 200,000 social media followers. Human rights groups claim he was physically and psychologically tortured in custody.
Fellow rapper Toomaj Salehi is facing similar charges, blogger Hossein Ronaghi has allegedly had his legs broken in detention, while prominent film directors, writers and journalists have all disappeared into Iran’s prison system.
Even athletes are being targeted, since Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi’s brave decision to compete at the Asian Championships without her hijab last month.
After Iranian beach football star Saeed Piramoon made a gesture of solidarity with protestors after scoring the winning goal in Iran’s thrilling victory over Brazil at the International Beach Soccer Tournament last week, authorities said they would be ‘dealt with’, amid reports they had been detained.
With so many athletes making clear their support for the protests, many Iranians are unimpressed with their national team’s more muted protest during their world cup loss to England, particularly after they were photographed smiling with Iran’s president Raeisi just days before flying out to Qatar.
The arrest of so many prominent Iranians surely reveals the fear the imperilled regime feels at its failure to quell the protests.
While previous attempted uprisings, like 2019’s fuel price protests, were crushed into submission, each fresh outrage has only swelled the numbers taking to the streets across the country.
As many as 15,000 people have reportedly been arrested, and several hundred killed since the protests began, including at least 40 children.
Iran’s prisons are notorious hotbeds for human rights abuses.
Torture is often routine, as I myself has experienced. Sexual violence is rife. In October, 21-year-old Armita Abbasi was hospitalised after, it has been suspected, she was repeatedly raped by security forces.
Before her family could visit her, she was abducted again by the Revolutionary Guard and she is still being held.
At Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, multiple people were killed in a fire which was believed to have been started deliberately when prisoners were locked in their cells, with those caught up in the blaze reporting that guards attacked them with tear gas and live ammunition.
When I was imprisoned in Evin Prison in 1988, thousands of political prisoners were slaughtered at the whim of Ayatollah Khomeini, in a massacre orchestrated by current president Raeisi.
In the buildup to the killings, our family visits were cancelled.
Cut off from the outside world, we would have political debates in our cells to distract ourselves from the reality that we feared for our lives.
Then, the interrogations began. We were forced to wear our chadoors, then blindfolded and taken from our cells to the feared interrogation building and questioned incessantly.
‘Are you Muslim? Will you repent? Will you condemn moharebeh?’
More than 50 prisoners were taken from my wing and I never saw them again. It turns my stomach knowing that today’s activists in Evin are suffering as we suffered.
Generations of Iranians have been suppressed under the regime’s reign of terror – but in its brutality, the regime has united Iranians from all social classes and every corner of the country.
To quote Toomaj Salehi’s protest anthem The Battlefield: ‘From athlete to artist, peddler to businessman, student and teacher, engineer and labourer, we deafen the dictator’s ear.’
For the first time, the regime appears to be fighting for its survival. Protests have only grown in recent days, and a report claims that officials are preparing to flee the country.
But if the sacrifices of Saman, Toomaj, Mahsa, Saeed and every Iranian who has risked their lives for the dream of freedom are not to be in vain, they need solidarity from the rest of the world.
Women, life, freedom. These words have become the rallying cry for protest that has erupted in the wake of the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s feared morality police. They are shaking the Iranian regime to its core.
Unlike past movements, this uprising cuts across generations and social classes. For young Iranian women, Amini’s death ignited an explosion of pent-up fury at the regime’s suppression of women’s rights. For older activists like me, it has reopened the scars from previous uprisings and breathed new life into the decades-long struggle for freedom.
Demonstrations began in Tehran on 16 September soon after news of Mahsa’s killing broke. Within hours, women appeared in the streets, burning their hijabs and calling for justice. Within days, the protests spread. In towns and cities across Iran, schoolchildren have abandoned their classrooms to join the masses thronging the junctions and blocking streets.
The regime’s violent response has been brutal. Killings of protesters began immediately and hundreds have already lost their lives. Last Friday in the south-east city of Zahedan, as many as 91 people were killed when state forces opened fire, including five children. Doctors certified that they had been shot from behind. Despite the regime shutting down the internet across the country, videos of police violence continue to leak out, further fuelling public rage.
Universities that have acted as staging posts for protests are now under attack from regime forces. Last Sunday, police fired on peaceful protesters at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology and at least 40 students were blindfolded and taken away in vans. Like so many parents in Iran, their families have no idea where they are. After 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami’s battered body was returned to her family by police after she disappeared at a protest, many fear the worst.
The roots of this uprising that Iranians are already calling a revolution can be found in a collective anger that has been suppressed for half a century. I became politically active soon after the Islamic regime took power and introduced its sexual apartheid laws. In 1982, I was arrested and taken to Joint Committee Interrogation Centre where I was tortured.
After hours of beatings, I was left paralysed for weeks, leaving me unable to shower or use the bathroom alone. The prison was so crowded I slept in a corridor for a month with dozens of other prisoners. We were blindfolded 24 hours a day, even eating and sleeping in darkness. Later, a guard bashed my head against the wall so hard I developed a brain tumour, an injury that troubles me to this day.
While the regime sentenced me to death, my sentence was commuted and I was eventually released in 1990. Soon after, I realised I was no longer safe, and fled to the UK. Since settling here, painting and writing have provided much relief, as has therapy from the organisation Freedom from Torture. But I am not “cured”. I still see the faces of my friends who were executed.
Ten years after I fled Iran, the regime turned the centre where I was interrogated into the Ebrat Museum. The torture chambers were preserved, with the regime claiming that they were used only by the forces of the shah, who was deposed in the 1979 revolution. But as the protests across the country demonstrate, the people have not forgotten. This is not just a burst of anger from a young and idealistic generation, but the accumulated trauma of generations of Iranians struggling for freedom.
Today, the regime is not just fighting to maintain its power but its very survival. Facing such anger from every section of society, it will kill or jail anyone who opposes it. But the people have come too far to turn back. If they give in and go home, there will be another massacre. They are fighting for their lives.
A nationwide day of action has been called for Saturday 8 October. I fear for the safety of my people. But I remain hopeful that they will sweep away the Islamic regime and realise the dreams of generations of Iranians who came before them.
Nasrin Parvaz is a women’s rights activist and torture survivor from Iran. Her books include A Prison Memoir: One Woman’s Struggle in Iran, and the novel The Secret Letters from X to A
During the 2017 uprising in Iran a participant named Asghar Haron Alrashidi was killed by a bullet fired by a government guard.
His family complained against the government militias. Soon after a number of his friends were arrested. They were forced to falsely confess to the use of arms in what was a peaceful demonstration under torture by the hands of Islamic Guards. The regime used these confessions against them to condemn them to execution.
These five men are sentenced to ten executions for the crime of protesting against the regime – yes, each of them is sentenced to two executions each. Their death sentence has been issued by the Supreme Court.
One thing that the Iranian regime does not like is international publicity that shows them for what they are. Please sign this petition to stop the regime from carrying out these executions.
Hadi Kiani was born in 1990 and is married.
Abass Mohammadi was born in 1991 and has two children.
Mohammad Bastami was born in 1992 and is married.
Majid Nazari Kondori was born in 1994.
Mehdi Salehi Ghaleh Shahrokhi was born in 1983 and has a seven year old daughter.
During the last three years there have been bursts of peaceful demonstrations in Iran. What people want is their basic rights: freedom of expression, jobs and unemployment benefits, and the end of execution. The regime shot demonstrators and arrested thousands of them before killing them in prison. Please sign this petition to stop the execution of these young men.
Just to say a couple of sentences about myself: I was arrested three years after the Islamic regime took power in the early 80s for the same reasons that these young men revolting against the regime. I was tortured and sentenced to execution, but after a year and half my late father was able to change my fate. I was released from prison after eight years. Now I’m a refugee living in the UK.