The Iranian regime operates a deliberate policy to force civil rights activists and journalists to leave the country, actively pressuring them to feel as though they have to flee “in order to survive.” Employing a range of tactics to ensure court cases are lengthy and arrests are arbitrary, authorities not only carry out planned and targeted campaigns to ensure activists can no longer function, in many cases they actually make it possible for them to leave the country easily.
“Forcing civil activists to emigrate is a systematic plan by the Iranian regime,” says Jolan Farhadi Babadi, a civil rights activist who now lives in Germany after recently being forced to emigrate. “Their mechanism first aims to intimidate engaged citizens but if they fail to silence them then they force them to emigrate.”
In recent years, Jolan Farhadi Babadi had participated in environmental campaigns including “Water’s Footsteps” [in Persian], which raises awareness about climate change and the importance of safeguarding water supplies. He says interrogators and officials make it clear to activists that their only option is to leave the country, adding that the pressure they exert to make people leave is in itself a kind of “unprovable torture” that results in the total disempowerment of activists.
Born in 1983, Farhadi first studied theology, but in 2001, after achieving high test scores, he was accepted as a student at Tehran University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies. Soon he was banned from continuing his studies because of his civil and media activities, although the ban was not permanent, and eventually he graduated in 2007. He was not, however, allowed to enroll for a Master’s degree.
He told IranWire that he had to emigrate against his will “in order to survive.” He says the security establishment “plays with time” to force civil activists to leave Iran. “They subject them to unending torture through long and wanton arrests, long prison sentences, dragging on the process of prosecution and threatening them. And if in prison you do not succumb to suicide then between staying in Iran and leaving Iran voluntarily — which costs the regime nothing — you would naturally choose to leave.” Then, he says, once an activist has left the country authorities pursue another line of attack: a project of isolation. “They start to fabricate trumped-up charges against you so that you cannot return,” he says.
Enemies of God
Farhadi says the sustained campaign is fuelled by a particular ideology. “For the Islamic Republic a journalist or a civil activist is not only a political opponent but also an ‘enemy of God’ so, even now I cannot tell the media what I have been charged with just in case.”
He quoted a recent statement by Emad Behavar, a civil activist who lives in Iran, about the widespread emigration of civil activists out of Iran: “Since 2009 they [the authorities] have left open the channels to leave the country, to indirectly guide political activists and dissenters to leave Iran.”
Farhadi also spoke about the pressure exerted on families. “No doubt you have heard that in the process of detaining a civil activist, the interrogator also puts pressure on the spouse and on the family as well,” Farhadi said. “People ranging from [the reformist journalist] Mashallah Shamsolvaezin to me have experienced such pressures. My first emotional relations, which had lasted for six years, came to an end under such pressures. And no doubt you have also heard about the forced dismissal of civil activists from their jobs. They are either fired or the place where they work is shut down. I have experienced this kind of dismissal four times: From the office of the president, from the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, from Bank Shahr and, the last time, from Tehran Municipality.” This, Farhadi says, amounts to psychological torture. “Throughout my professional life I worked as a contractor. Not only did I have no job security but in the end I was fired for ideological reasons. Only after I was dismissed did I find out that after five years of work I had only one year of insurance. In other words, not only do you lose your past but you have no future either.”
If an individual chooses to engage in activism, he or she will never be able to thrive in other aspects of their lives, he told IranWire. “They will not allow you to see the fruits of your scientific work, to study or to create your own independent identity. At any moment they might raid your home and find a pretext of accusing you of ‘actions against national security’ on your phone. You are constantly targeted by vengeful actions. I found out that all documents related to my theological studies had vanished into the thin air. I had to file a complaint to get duplicates.”
Farhadi says civil activists in Iran are captives, victims of a forced “civil isolation.” They might write without a byline to protect their colleagues from trouble and their families often cannot take the pressure. During the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when authorities banned him from continuing his university education, the Intelligence Ministry summoned him. He was told that during the interrogation he had not been “honest” and therefore he could not return to his classes.
“The biggest challenge,” he says, “is to decide whether you want to be a useless creature who does not care about civil rights and only thinks of your family and your friends, or whether you consider yourself to be duty-bound to fulfill your responsibilities toward humankind.”
Since the nationwide protests of December 2017 and January 2018, Farhadi has felt that staying silent is an act of moral treason against himself. “I think all of us who are outside Iran have this experience,” he told me. “Dealing with this inner conflict is a kind of imposed torture.” He urged the international community to listen and to help.
A Common Practice
Siamak Ghaderi, an Iranian journalist who served a four-year prison sentence at Tehran’s Evin Prison and who now lives in the United States, told IranWire that even though no interrogator or judge suggested he leave the country, he knows the regime has a determined policy to persuade journalists to emigrate. He says if a critic of the Islamic Republic is not silenced after extensive pressures and prison sentences, authorities then actively encourage the person to emigrate, and can even make it easy for that person to leave.
The main responsibility of the media is to inform people about problems in society, Ghaderi says. Since these problems include the inefficiency of the country’s political and social system, naturally the regime will confront journalists. “You must write things that the gentlemen will approve of,” he said. "Otherwise it will be characterized as ‘blackwashing’ and ‘sabotage.’ This is what we have been witnessing over the last 40 years. They do not want people to be informed and that is the reason behind their violence and the imprisonments.”
Ghaderi believes that officials feel more threatened by journalists and civil activists within Iran’s borders.“When you leave you do not pose much of a threat so, if you stand up to them, it is better that you go.”
The stories of Ghaderi and Farhadi are not unusual. Many of the journalists and civil activists who have left Iran over the last decade tell similar stories about the pressures that have forced them to leave their country against their will — including stories of how the interrogators encouraged them to go and how their travel documents were quickly renewed so that they would find it easier to flee.
More about Iranians forced to emigrate:
“The world is now a smaller place for Iranian refugees", February 1, 2017
“Life in exile is like jail”, March 16, 2016
The Iranian Stars Forced to go Abroad: Part 3, March 24, 2016
The Iranian Stars Forced to go Abroad: Part 2, March 1, 2016
The Iranian Stars Forced to go Abroad, February 29, 2016
Harsh Sentences Force Two Poets Into Exile, January 13, 2016