I am a blogger and internet freedom activist in Iran, and I have a message that millions of Iranians desperately want you to hear: Western media is betraying the Iranian people.
There have been five national uprisings against the regime in our country in the past four years. Our government has slaughtered demonstrators and tortured political prisoners to suppress them. Yet most people in the West – even those who consider themselves knowledgeable about Iran – do not know our reality because foreign media coverage constantly neglects or denies our reality.
For us, it’s like there are two Irans: the one we live in and the other you read about. Your Iran is defined by a pesky nuclear negotiation. Ours is much worse. It is a religious police state where we live in fear, with countless red lines that most dare not cross. It is a country of repression, censorship and violence. I would know, I spent six years in his prisons.
After the 2009 Green Movement protests, countless Iranians were arrested and jailed. I was thrown into Evin prison in Tehran. I had helped Iranians bypass Internet censorship, and for this “crime” the Revolutionary Guard intelligence unit accused me of “acting against national security.” Writing this article could carry the same burden again.
In Iran, thinking can be a crime. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance enforces this by closing magazines and ripping pages from books. The textbooks taught in our schools are full of hatred, such as bigotry towards the BahÃ¡’Ã Faith and the promotion of terrorism. Our newspapers publish lies about the popularity of the regime, the history of our nation and the anti-government protests. Only newspapers approved by the intelligence services are authorized to publish.
The wandering morality police brutalize women for not wearing the obligatory hijab. They barge into parties where there is alcohol and students mingling to beat and arrest young people. The “repeat offenders” are imprisoned, flogged in public or executed.
It’s not “1984” or “The Handmaid’s Tale”. This is our Iran.
The virtual world does not escape control. Facebook,
Twitter and other platforms have been banned. Social media monitors scour the web to identify and arrest those who post content deemed to undermine religious dignity or insult regime leaders. It was another of my “crimes”.
Political activities are prohibited except those approved by the state such as rallies against the United States or Israel. Dissenters are jailed for simple acts of civil disobedience, such as removing their headscarves or holding up pictures of their murdered children. Even in death, Iranians are not immune from harassment and other indignities perpetrated by the state. Many relatives of those killed by the regime are not allowed to organize funerals. They often have to pay a fee to have their loved one’s body freed or be required to pay for the bullet or rope used to kill them.
For those who are kept alive, torture takes many forms. Some are subjected to violent beatings, rapes or lashes. Others suffer physical deprivation, threats and psychological torture. When I was in prison, the guards tortured me and brought me to the brink of death. I lost a kidney and was denied proper treatment. To this day, I fight the effects of this torture.
This is our reality. Yet when we look abroad we see their media portray another Iran. As protests raged across Iran in November 2019 and the Islamic Republic shut down the internet and sent military units to slaughter more than 1,500 protesters, a Bloomberg Iran correspondent tweeted about an unexpected snowfall in Tehran. When the regime shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in January 2020, killing 176, many Western media said our president had no knowledge of the attack, but provided no evidence for this claim. .
In Iran, we protest as loudly as possible and post videos online, but the reality is not reflected in most Western media reports. Meanwhile, reporters tweet about anecdotes like the new malls and ignore the real story of what is happening in our country. They show you an imaginary Iran.
In the real Iran, we know the long shadow of state suppression. We are not victims of global ignorance but of a deliberate and systematic attempt by the Islamic Republic to manipulate world opinion through apologists in the foreign media. So you read that there is no internal opposition to the Islamic Republic. It’s wrong. We the people are the opposition. What we ask of you is simple: know Iran, listen to us, share our stories. You were told that your solidarity would hurt us, that talking about our struggle would put us in danger. It’s a lie. It is your silence and your indifference that threaten us.
We have lost friends who fought for freedom from this regime. We have been to his prisons and seen his torture chambers. Writing this could send me back to jail. But if this is the price to pay for giving a voice to the voiceless, it will be worth it.
Mr. Ronaghi is an Iranian blogger and free speech activist.
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