On August 21, 2021, Reza Behrozi, a laborer from Qazvin, was arrested for posting videos on Instagram that authorities said criticized the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. The following day, a video of his arrest was posted on social media, showing several plainclothes officers handcuffing Behrozi and taking him to a car. In the video, a woman can be heard shouting, appealing to neighbors: "Do not let Mr. Behrozi be taken away!”
Behrozi’s posts highlighted and complained about Iran's ban on coronavirus vaccines produced in the United States and several European countries. For this, he was taken away by agents. Months later, he is seeking asylum in Turkey.
IranWire spoke to Reza Behrozi about what happened to him and why he left for Turkey.
In January 2021, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned the import of American and British coronavirus vaccines. But with the escalation of the coronavirus pandemic crisis in Iran and the rising death toll among Iranians, the Supreme Leader was forced to acknowledge that tackling the pandemic was Iran's highest priority, and, as part of that, he had to accept the importance of accessing vaccines in whatever way the country could.
Behrozi was one of many who went on to social media to blame Khamenei from the mounting deaths from the virus and to criticize his initial decision to ban vaccines.
"Because of my criticism of Khamenei for not allowing the vaccines to enter the country and for killing thousands of my compatriots because of this order, security agents raided my house and arrested me,” he told IranWire. “For a week, I was interrogated in handcuffs and blindfolded in the basement of the detention center, and I was subjected to psychological torture. I was transferred to prison after that and released on bail two weeks later.”
He added that agents also issued an arrest warrant for his wife: "Just because, according to them, she broadcast the video of my arrest on ‘dissident’ networks."
He described unsafe he felt after he was released on bail, haunted by images of his family being subjected to harassment by security forces. At the same time, while transferring him between the court and prison, agents made it clear that they would continue to target him."There is no place for you in this country anymore because you have insulted our leader,” they told him.
At that point, Behrozi felt he had no choice but to leave Iran with his family. They fled to Turkey, where they have been living for the last three months. “Human traffickers looted my property and a large part of my capital. We spent everything we had on leaving the country. Even the small savings we have is running out. We really do not know what to do."
In Turkey, asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and ever since a new law was passed two years go, they also have no access to health insurance. So life for asylum seekers is extremely hard in Turkey, and many of them turn to illegal work and the black market to survive, working in dire conditions for little money and no job security.
Accustomed to Hardship
Like many of Iran's working class, Reza Behrozi has suffered discrimination all his life, and knows all too well the burdens of a life in poverty.
Reza said he was 11 years old when his father committed suicide. His parents had divorced when he was five, and his mother, unable to care for him, abandoned him to the streets.
Police officers referred him to the country’s social welfare center. "I was not helped there either, because they said we would take care of people who have no family, but you have a mother and a half-brother and a half-sister, and we do not have any budget for children like you,” Reza Behrozi said.
So he slept rough, fending for himself out on the streets until it was time for him to complete his mandatory military service. "There, too, I realized that there was discrimination in the armed forces between IRGC and army soldiers. The guards had more advantages over army soldiers, such as food, clothing, and leave. I served in the army."
Reza Behrozi remembers how he and his family turned to Hojjatoleslam Barikbin, the local representative for the Supreme Leader, for help. "I spoke about the hardships and sufferings of my life and about poverty and unemployment. I asked him for a job. He mockingly said that his nieces and nephews were unemployed despite having Master's degrees, so how could I expect to find a job as someone who was illiterate? Naturally, he made no mention of who was actually responsible for the misery and unemployment of the youth of our society."
And it got more desperate: He sold one of his kidneys to escape poverty and hunger. But the pressures he faced did not ease and he and his family were increasingly pulled down by poverty. He, like so many other desperate people, took Reza to the streets in both 2017 and November 2019.
But he says he has hope. Life as an asylum seeker in Turkey is hard, but he said he had appealed to human rights activists and organizations for help, and he hoped something might be done for him and his family.