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Iranian Dissidents Are Victims of the Islamic Republic’s Campaign of Censorship and Threat; Their Personal Safety Is at Stake

By Ahura Niknafs

Last month, an Iranian-American university professor was contacted by his employer’s compliance office informing him of a complaint made by an individual who wished to remain anonymous due to “fear of retaliation.” That person claimed he/she felt “threatened” because the Professor had liked a Tweet that featured a short satiric video clip mocking members and affiliates of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). NIAC is an organization that lobbies on behalf of the Islamic Republic regime of terror in Iran. The Professor had also commented that he found the clip humorous. Fortunately, no violation of the university’s ethical standards could be found on the Professor’s Twitter page and the case was dismissed.

This is not an isolated incident. Over the past several months, many Iranian dissidents have been targeted and threatened by individuals who support the Islamic Republic regime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted a young Iranian-American anti-regime activist in Washington and notified him that NIAC had reported him for “harassment” when he made a benign comment under a tweet by NIAC president, Jamal Abdi. The FBI agent who called the activist felt the complaint was frivolous. An anti-regime Iranian-Canadian attorney was targeted by a hard-left, pro-regime “journalist,” Negar Mortazavi. Mortazavi called the attorney’s employer complaining that his tweets were “misogynistic.” Fortunately, the attorney’s employer stood by him and dismissed the “complaint” as unwarranted outrage.

Mortazavi also targeted a Twitter account run by an Iranian dissident using the pseudonym, Shārih. Shārih meticulously – and with evidence – exposed and criticized pro-regime journalists and Persian language news networks with respect to their hypocritical and controversial reporting practices. In a now-deleted tweet, Mortazavi specifically asked for information on Shārih’s identity. Before completely abandoning his/her Twitter account (for whatever reason), Shārih expressed fear for his/her life as a result of Mortazavi’s tweet, stating that if anything happened to him/her, Mortazavi was responsible. Shārih’s last tweet states in Persian, “Given Ms. Mortazavi’s connection to the ‘terror’ regime, this tweet is a serious security threat …”

Negar Mortazavi’s now-deleted tweet asking (fishing) for the identity of an Iranian dissident blogger.

Shārih’s last tweet states in Persian, “Given Ms. Mortazavi’s connection to the ‘terror’ regime, this tweet is a serious security threat …”

Another Twitter account targeted by Motazavi was JokerNejad, an Iranian activist who publishes high-quality video clips chronicling the Islamic Republic regime’s atrocities and crimes against humanity. Mortazavi accused JokerNejad as being a project funded by US State Department; an allegation that would have grave, life-threatening consequences for the holder of the account if he/she were to be identified by the Islamic Republic’s intelligence services and mercenaries. In response, JokerNejad called Mortazavi’s tweet an “extension of regime propaganda” aiming to target dissidents and threaten their safety. JokerNejad called Moartazavi’s tweet targeted harassment, saying “this tweet is endangering my life, as the regime can use it to target and kill me.”

Negar Mortazavi accusing JokerNejad of being a project run by the US State Department.
JokerNejad’s reaction to Mortazavi’s accusations.

The campaign of terror on social media doesn’t end there. Earlier this month, an Iranian-American economist and senior advisor at the Foundations for Defense of Democracies, Saeed Ghasseminejad was threatened by an anonymous pro-regime Twitter account with being abducted and hauled to Iran “in a gunnysack” to “face trial.” Ghasseminejad expressed outrage in a follow-up tweet when he noticed Reza Yeganehshakib, a seemingly pro-regime faculty member in the Department of Social Sciences at Saddleback College (Mission Viejo, California), had endorsed the threat.

A tweet by an anonymous pro-regime account threatening Ghasseminejad with abduction in Persian: “It is time to place Saeed Ghasseminejad in a gunnysack and bring him to Iran to face trial; just like Ruhollah Zam.”
Ghasseminejad’s reaction to the threatening tweet and its endorsement by an academic in Mission Viejo, CA.

In August 2020, an Iranian-American women’s rights activist, Masih Alinejad was threatened with abduction – gagged and handcuffed –  by a Tehran-based, pro-regime “journalist,” Ali Dalirian. Dalirian works closely with the Islamic Republic’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Alinejad whose brother has been sentenced to 8 years in prison for refusing to turn his sister in to regime authorities, reacted in a Persian tweet, “those who threaten me with abduction on official government networks should know that one day their criminal leader Ali Khamenei will be extradited to international courts.”

A tweet by a Tehran-based journalist close to the regime’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. In Persian: “A day will come when “M.A.” (Masih Alinejad) is brought over [to Iran] gagged and handcuffed.”
Alinejad’s reaction to the ominous tweet. In Persian: “those who threaten me with abduction on official government networks should know that one day their criminal leader Ali Khamenei will be extradited to international courts.”

The threats of abduction began shortly after a journalist and vocal regime critic, Ruhollah Zam, was lured into Iraq in October 2019 on false pretenses, only to be abducted and transported to Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. After a series of broadcast confessions on the Islamic Republic’s state-run television, Zam was convicted by the Revolutionary Court in June 2020 of enticing the 2017 nationwide anti-regime protests in Iran and sentenced to death . Zam’s execution is imminent.

Ruhollah Zam in an undated photo on trial in Tehran.

The culmination of these threats on social media might be the recent murder in Toronto of Mehdi Amin, a 58-year-old Iranian-Canadian dissident and vocal detractor of the Islamic Republic lobby enterprise in North America, including NIAC. Although the perpetrator has not been apprehended and the investigation is ongoing, there is high speculation that he was assassinated by regime’s henchmen in Canada due to his anti-regime activities and criticism of the regime’s lobby groups.

Mehdi Amin in an undated photo holding the official flag of Iran.
Mehdi Amin (left) joining fellow Iranian dissidents in Washington DC protesting against the National Iranian American Council, the regime’s lobby in the US.
July 19, 2019

Earlier this year, a video clip was published on social media showing Iranian dissidents confronting a regime supporter in Canada. He is clearly heard saying, “the IRGC will show you.”

An Islamic Republic regime supporter threatening Iranian dissidents in Canada, saying, “the IRGC will show you.”

Threats by regime affiliates targeting Iranian dissidents must not be taken lightly, regardless of how innocuous they may seem; from making frivolous complaints made to employers or law enforcement, baseless and controversial accusations on social media, to threats of violence. Regime proponents who reside in the West have a habitual tendency to play victim and paradoxically claim that they are the focus of harassment. The end result, however, is far more devastating for those being falsely accused of harassment. By fraudulently conflating statements against the regime and its operatives to heinous features such as misogyny and racism, individuals like Mortazavi not only draw the attention of the Islamic Republic mercenaries to Iranian dissidents, but also exacerbate societal sensitivities, which makes these dissidents vulnerable to violent reaction from members of the community they live in. And that danger is especially real for Iranians in the diaspora.

Ahura Niknafs is an Iranian activist based in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Published by US Iran Policy Observer

A Foreign Policy Forum for Iranian Americans

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