“If you don’t stop, we will arrest your parents” or how Tehran threatens its citizens abroad

“They gave my parents an ultimatum: if he doesn’t call, we’ll arrest you. Since mid-September and the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who died after being arrested by the morality police, Iran has been rocked by demonstrations. Tehran described these movements as “riots” and the crackdown on the Islamic regime was bloody. But the adversary’s vigilance transcends national borders.

Massi Kamari, 42, has been a refugee in France since December 2018. For this woman who worked in marketing, the pressure from the Islamic regime in Tehran is unfortunately not just a bad memory. On the weekend of January 1, while the French were celebrating the New Year, Massi’s parents and siblings, still living in Iran, “received numerous calls from a hidden number asking them to go to a office of the Iranian intelligence services,” he. said.

The “squeeze of family pressure”

There, “they gave my parents an ultimatum: if he doesn’t call, we will arrest you. They pressured me so much,” sighs Massi Kamari, adding that she ended up calling back the number her parents had given her. “It’s not surprising and happens often. In Iran, the regime regularly establishes ties between the person who, in its opinion, causes trouble and his family”, explains Amélie Chelly, sociologist and specialist in the world of Iran, adding that the regime does not reluctant to “activate the lever of family pressure.

On the phone, “the man told me: this is the last threat, if you don’t stop, we will arrest your parents and send them to Evin prison at the end of the week”, said Massi Kamari. , support call recording. The prospect of seeing his relatives incarcerated in Evin prison, known for holding political prisoners, thrills many Iranians. “We don’t know exactly what is happening in Evin prison but, in general, more people are imprisoned there for political reasons than for common violations of the law. This is a threat that is mentioned quite regularly in Iran and, unfortunately, is also often carried out,” explains Amélie Chelly.

“White Torture”

This “method of regime repression” is regularly taught by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that defend human rights. In 2021, after posting videos of abuse in Evin prison, Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International, said that this was only “the tip of the iceberg of the torture epidemic in Iran “. Some prisoners are completely isolated. “In Evin prison, they used ‘shekandje sefid’, white torture, a bit like sa The chess player by Stefan Zweig, you are locked in a white room. Your mind does not digest anything and ends up dissolving itself,” reports sociologist Amélie Chelly.

“I’m really afraid for my parents,” said Massi Kamari, adding that “there are no human rights in Iran” and that the regime is “merciless” to its opponents. The 40-year-old is accused by Tehran of participating in demonstrations in France for a democratic transition in Iran. He is also an activist in HamAva, a “national coalition for a democratic and secular Iran”. “They even showed my parents photos of me during demonstrations in France,” she testifies.

“Sleeper cells” and hacking

“It’s quite common as a strategy”, Amélie Chelly reacts. “Since its birth, the Islamic Republic – and more so in the Iran-Iraq war – has posted sleeper cells and agents outside” and this, especially in countries that host a strong Iranian diaspora. Even refugees abroad, “Iranians are very suspicious because they know very well that there are people they talk to who are watching them,” added the Iran specialist. In order to establish control over its population, the Middle Eastern country has striven to establish almost total control over the Internet within its borders.

YouTube, Twitter, Netflix, TikTok, etc. As early as 2006, Iranian authorities were accused of censoring more sites than any other country except China. “They assess everything on computers, first to avoid sanctions but also to gather information on activists and better control them”, says Amélie Chelly. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Iranian intelligence services obtained photos of the demonstrations in France. “It is possible that these images have been hacked or that people in France are responsible for taking these images”, the sociologist sums up.

“They want to make me some kind of agent”

Massi Kamari refused to comply with the demands of the voice threatening him on the phone. “I told them that I will not stop, no matter what they threaten. I have freedom of speech and expression here. I live according to French law and do nothing against the laws of the country. I can do what I want here,” launched the forties with energy. However, he cut off all contact with his parents after this call, which took place on Tuesday, in the hope of protecting them. “I can’t really know what will happen to them,” she sighs, explaining that the authorities have told them that they have no right to leave the country. “But I can’t accept everything they ask for. If I do, they would prefer me, they like me more, and they want to make me an agent,” he explained.

“Sometimes, there are people who come back and start spying on themselves,” confirms Amélie Chelly. And “sometimes it’s more radical. In Turkey [où la diaspora iranienne est particulièrement présente]many killings in the middle of the street by Iranians who lead opposition television stations”.

From assassination to recruiting talented students, Tehran’s methods for controlling its population are wide-ranging. “They spend a lot of money, energy and time to silence everyone, even outside the country. They are really scared. They have been cornered”, judge Massi Kamari who adds with hope: “I hope that this time it will be the revolution. »

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