24th Feb 2024


Iranian abroad: 'We are fighting a despotic regime'

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I am an Iranian abroad, working in academia. I come from the far east of Iran. I cannot share my name, because that would mean death or imprisonment for my family and friends. I am in contact with them every day. Sometimes every hour, despite all difficulties due to the internet restrictions. On a daily basis, we are moving from one internet application to another, trying different VPNs, to find a safe virtual space to share our thoughts.

I am speaking here for this group of people. We come from different provinces: Sistan-Baluchistan, Kurdistan, Khorasan, and Tehran. We are women and men and among us are Sunnis, Shiites and atheists. Our purpose is to share information among ourselves and to think about where all this is headed. Despite our religious differences, we are united. This is nothing unusual in Iran.

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Even though Sunni Kurds are not allowed to travel to my area — Baluchistan or Khorasan — let alone study, work, visit friends or just live there, and vice versa, Iranians are in touch with one another. We have met at university or at work in the big cities Iran and we remain friends.

We have seen protests in each of our cities and we all personally know people who were brutally attacked, arrested or killed by the security forces.

The repression has been brutal. Our public spaces have been securitised and militarised. This is the case everywhere, but especially in Kurdistan, where security forces are present almost everywhere.

When we see people in civil outfit whom we do not know, we fear they may be covert agents. Different from previous demonstrations, we see no mercy among the security forces this time around. The number of people in the country's jails is dramatic, especially in Baluchistan and Kurdistan, where the authorities do not hesitate to arrest and execute people by labelling them 'separatists' or 'terrorists', even if they are minors.

On what has become known as "Black Friday", more then 80 people were killed in Zahedan after security forces fired into demonstrators and crowds returning from Sunni Friday prayer on Friday, 30 September.

That families lost their loved ones is terrible enough, but many were also the only breadwinners. People in Baluchistan are still in a shock, and you can feel that many are in trauma, especially teenagers. The pictures and videos of those people killed are passed on from neighbour to neighbour, from friend to friend. Fear, frustration, uncertainty and anger permeate the air.

To answer where this is going, we almost all agree that there are two paths in front of us: either repression will increase to crack down every form of protest. This will lead to further demoralisation and depression among Iranians. Many will want to emigrate as quickly as possible.

The other option, which seems unlikely to us, is formation of resistance groups confronting the security forces. At this point, an optimistic outcome is not in front of us but the hope is still there. We had many mass protests in previous years. In 2019 more than 1500 people were killed, Still, this one is bigger and even more fundamental. Nobody believes anymore that the regime can be reformed.

This story will be largely written in Iran, but it does not mean the outside world cannot do anything.

First, the most important and strongest means that Iranians have in the current situation is hope. In a psychological war run by the Iranian state, this hope is being targeted to force demonstrators into accepting defeat. Any possible way to strengthen this hope will be a significant help. Even if it sounds symbolic and fanciful, we should not forget that the very elements which triggered the current demonstration were symbols. European societies can help by offering their platforms — on social media and elsewhere — to give Iranians the opportunity to share their voices. We feel that we are living in a countrywide jail and our voices are not being heard. To reflect the stories from Iran will be an inspiration for everyone.

There are two major challenges when it comes to social media: First, the speed of the internet and the filtering of certain websites hinders many Iranian from getting access to social media, especially if one cannot afford to buy a VPN. Second, the cyber soldiers of the regime are closely observing every activity online.

On a practical level, providing telecommunication tools such as free VPNs are essential for people in Iran and their connection to the outside world. We also need more, safer platforms. Some media like BBC Persian and Iran International provide a platform, but many people are hesitant to be in touch with them, fearing political reprisals.

A platform facilitated by European societies can be seen as a neutral ground in which many ideas can come together. There are many Iranian young writers who have lots to say, but they are hesitant to speak up. A possibility to reflect what people in Iran say and write and to promote it worldwide would be of great help and can boost people's hope.

Second, the European Union could increase support. The EU should facilitate discussions among Iranians both from Iran and those living in Europe to debate the contours of a democratic future for Iran. What kind of a state do we envision? A return to the democratic parliamentarism of the 1940s? Do we seek a unitary or a federal state? How do we ensure that Iran's ethnic and religious minorities enjoy full equality, not only political equality but also equality of economic opportunity? In this regard we would like to emphasise that working on any aspects of Iran's future without addressing the question of minorities will lead to neither stability nor prosperity.

Third, continuing efforts to now revive the nuclear agreement are misguided. Negotiating with Iranian leaders in the current situation would only send the message that the West does not care about ordinary Iranians. Nuclear talks would validate current leaders and give the impression that the West is blind to those who risk their lives every day to change the course of Iran's future.

Instead, the West should focus its sanctions against political leaders and those connected to the security forces, as has been done in some cases. Travel bans will not be very effective unless they also apply to their families. By contrast, economic sanctions that mostly affect ordinary Iranians should be scaled down as further external pressure only weakens civil society.

Finally: we miss the outcry from other Muslims in the world. Muslims in Iran, fed up with current situation, are wondering, where is the support from other Muslims? Islam is about justice and we are fighting a despotic regime.

'We are all Iranians' should be the battle cry in the Muslim world, yet we appear to receive more support from French actresses. The silence of Muslim communities around the world will be damaging for the future of Islam.

My Kurdish friend in our chat group reported on the sermon of his local Islamic preacher: "Religious communities must clearly raise their voices and demonstrate that oppression, discrimination and injustice have no place in religion ... Why should people trust a religion, if its main actors do not reflect the painful outrage of other peoples".

The Kurdish scholar concluded his message with a famous poem by the Persian poet Saadi:

"All human beings are members of one frame,

Since all, at first, from

the same essence came.

When time afflicts

a limb with pain

The other limbs

at rest cannot remain.

If thou feel not

for other's misery

A human being is

no name for thee".

Author bio

The author of this oped chose to remain anonymous due to possible repercussions on their family in Iran. We respected this wish because of the credibility of the threats, but the name of the author is known to writers of this website.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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