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IranWire Exclusive: Iran Systematically Targets Families of Arab Activists Abroad

March 27, 2024
Roghayeh Rezaei
3 min read
IranWire has obtained information and documents revealing a systematic and premeditated campaign by security forces of the Islamic Republic to persecute the families of Arab political activists who have fled Iran. This is being done to thwart their activities
IranWire has obtained information and documents revealing a systematic and premeditated campaign by security forces of the Islamic Republic to persecute the families of Arab political activists who have fled Iran. This is being done to thwart their activities
Historically, this coercion has targeted families of journalists, Persian-language media workers, political and civil activists forced into exile, as well as participants in protests abroad, notably following the death of Mahsa Amini
Historically, this coercion has targeted families of journalists, Persian-language media workers, political and civil activists forced into exile, as well as participants in protests abroad, notably following the death of Mahsa Amini

IranWire has obtained information and documents revealing a systematic and premeditated campaign by security forces of the Islamic Republic to persecute the families of Arab political activists who have fled Iran. This is being done to thwart their activities. 

Several of these activists disclosed to IranWire that not only were their immediate family members, including elderly parents, spouses, and children, subjected to repeated harassment and summonses, but also extended family members, such as uncles and cousins, were targeted and sometimes coerced to relocate to Turkey.

Systematic Suppression Tactics

In a common tactic of suppression, Iranian authorities often resort to pressuring the families of citizens residing abroad.

Historically, this coercion has targeted families of journalists, Persian-language media workers, political and civil activists forced into exile, as well as participants in protests abroad, notably following the death of Mahsa Amini.

Recent revelations by IranWire shed light on the ongoing harassment inflicted by security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran upon the families and relatives of these citizens, with the explicit intent of hindering their activities abroad.

Testimonies from four Arab political activists corroborate allegations that Iran's security agencies actively coerce families to lure them to Turkey or neighboring countries for potential abduction and repatriation to Iran.

Furthermore, two Arab political activists disclosed to IranWire that the government has resorted to pressuring their families into agreeing to return to Iran, offering promises of improved conditions upon their return.

Wife of Activist Under Pressure

An Arab activist, who has relocated to Europe and chooses anonymity for safety, disclosed to IranWire the relentless pressure faced by his family. 

Within six months, his uninvolved wife has been summoned six times to the Ministry of Intelligence.

Having endured months of detention and severe torture by the Ministry of Intelligence in Iran, the activist was released on bail from Shiban prison in Ahvaz before fleeing the country.

He revealed the coercion tactics employed by interrogators and prison authorities before his release.

Regarding the summons issued to his wife, he said, "They demanded my phone number. Initially, my wife resisted, but eventually relented and provided it." 

He further said, "A few weeks ago, they sent me a threatening video from an anonymous user account with a code from a neighboring country of Iran."

Decades of Intimidation

Haifa Asadi and Mehdi Hashemi, an Arab political couple, sought refuge in Europe years ago due to escalating government threats.

Feminist activist Asadi told IranWire that her relatives had to endure relentless harassment despite years of no contact. 

She said, "Last year, intelligence forces targeted my uncle and his son in Tehran, interrogating them for information regarding my activities and those of my husband and aunt."

Furthermore, her cousin in Ahvaz was summoned and questioned about her and her aunt.

IranWire obtained evidence of anonymous WhatsApp calls and messages, including a threatening photo of a masked figure holding a gun and an English text alleging ties to terrorism, all aimed at silencing Asadi and her husband.

Mehdi Hashemi described his family's ordeal, saying that his brother was abducted and elderly parents were surveilled. 

His sister, recovering from heart surgery, was threatened and coerced into persuading him to return to Iran.

Hashemi revealed ongoing threats directed at him and his children, illustrating the Islamic Republic's relentless pursuit of suppressing activists.

Arab Activists Pressured for Cooperation

Karim Barvayeh, an Arab political activist living in Europe, revealed to IranWire the continuous pressures exerted on his family and relatives.

Barvayeh said, "Authorities threaten families with arrest if they refuse cooperation."

Sharing his own ordeal, Barvayeh added, "Authorities demand access to our families' phones, inquire about our European contacts, and coerce them to message us."

An Arab human rights activist, wishing to remain anonymous, corroborated: "The Ministry of Intelligence relentlessly summons families, even housewives and children, pressuring them to cooperate under threat of their loved ones' return or their own arrest for non-compliance."

Recalling the plight of a former political prisoner's 85-year-old mother, the activist said, "She's been summoned countless times, questioned about her son's non-cooperation. Authorities warn families that failure to comply will result in their own detention or denial of release."

While such coercive tactics have targeted journalists and civil and political activists abroad before, Arab activists interviewed by IranWire believe these pressures, often concealed from public scrutiny, persist predominantly in their community. 

Many activists fear reprisals against their families, prompting compliance with government demands.

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