“They killed my brother, and now they’re coming for us too.”
These are phrases from inside Iran that its rulers don’t need the world to listen to.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS A GRAPHIC IMAGE OF INJURY
“They’re taking us hostage,” Reza mentioned. Sky News will not be utilizing Reza’s actual title to guard his security.
Reza’s brother was brutally killed throughout the protests final 12 months. Armed police pressured the grieving household to bury his physique the identical evening he died – in an effort to cowl up their crimes, he mentioned.
Reza, who’s in his late 20s, and his household have been the goal of a marketing campaign of harassment and threats by the authorities ever since.
He dangers imprisonment, torture and demise to talk to Sky News. But regardless of the federal government’s efforts, Reza is adamant he will not be silenced.
And he isn’t alone.
Reza is talking from a small room in Turkey the place exiled Iranian activist Shilan Mirzai works in hiding.
She helps victims of the nation’s brutal crackdown on protests, which appears to be like set to accentuate because the anniversary of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini‘s demise in police custody approaches.
“The harder they’re pushing, the harder people fight back,” mentioned Ms Mirzai.
Ms Amini’s demise final September within the custody of Iran‘s infamous morality police sparked an unprecedented rebellion in opposition to the regime, which threatened the very existence of the Islamic Republic.
The response of the cleric-led authorities was brutal and bloody with greater than 500 folks killed, together with 70 youngsters.
Almost a 12 months later, the protests seem to have subsided however the authorities crackdown continues.
In the previous month, Ms Mirzai has seen a pointy rise within the variety of the households of those that had been imprisoned or killed throughout the protests reporting threats, harassment and arrests.
Ahead of Saturday’s anniversary, human rights campaigners, activists and lecturers have reportedly been arrested – together with Ms Amini’s uncle and lawyer, and the younger journalist who broke the story of her demise.
“Iran’s government is clearly anxious,” Ms Mirzai mentioned. “They know that people are preparing to reignite the protests.”
But the widespread crackdown on protesters by authorities is not simply restricted to Iran.
Activist Shilan Mirrzaee, who lives in Turkey, is repeatedly threatened and harassed.
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“They’re trying to silence me,” she mentioned. She not often leaves her home and even stopped her son going to high school for 3 months out of worry one thing would possibly occur to him.
Her household in Iran aren’t secure both. Shilan mentioned they’re being taken “hostage”.
In the previous 12 months, her father has been arrested six occasions for her activism. Her brother and sister have additionally been arrested. Her sister was threatened with rape.
But her household has inspired her to not cease being an activist.
“We can’t speak out ourselves,” her father mentioned, “but you can be our voice”.
“I’m not scared of the Islamic Republic government. Even if they kill my father, I will keep on fighting,” she mentioned.
“We don’t want the Islamic Republic. Dictatorship must end.”
While many protesters put together to take to the streets as soon as once more, others are left grappling with life-changing accidents from final 12 months. Others look on from afar after escaping Iran seeking security and medical therapy.
Behzad Hamrahi, 44, and his household had been pressured to hunt asylum in Turkey a number of months in the past.
“The guards held my arms behind me,” the father-of-two mentioned. “Another stood less than a metre away, pointing a gun directly at my face. Then everything went black.”
Mr Hamrahi thought he had died. A guard had shot him in his left eye with a paintball gun that contained a dense ball of pressurised plastic.
He misplaced his eye – certainly one of 600 folks to be injured on this method based on docs in simply two provinces. The precise numbers throughout Iran are prone to be a lot increased.
Mr Hamrahi was overwhelmed by the guards however earlier than they might take him away, a number of different protesters carried him to a close-by condo block and helped him conceal.
One of the protesters, a nurse, helped clear the wound. But Mr Hamrahi desperately wanted pressing medical care.
“I knew [getting medical treatment] would lead to my arrest,” he mentioned. But he determined to go to a hospital the subsequent day “regardless of the consequences”.
Most clinics and hospitals refused him because it was clear he sustained his damage within the protests.
Mr Hamrahi ended up having his left eye eliminated in a hospital that was identified to collaborate with authorities.
Shortly after he was discharged, he was held in jail for per week the place he was tortured.
“That’s when I decided that I must leave the country immediately,” he mentioned.
He arrived in Turkey a number of days later together with his spouse and younger youngsters.
Mr Hamrahi, now dwelling in a modest condo within the nation, mentioned he would not remorse his involvement within the protests “because I fought for a free and prosperous Iran”.
But not everybody feels the identical. Reza tells me that the stress and struggling his household has been by means of since his brother was killed is insufferable.
“The harassment towards our family has been non-stop from day one and it’s only getting worse,” he mentioned.
He promised his household he wouldn’t participate in any future protests. “They can’t bear to lose another son,” he mentioned.