Masih Alinejad, bareheaded against the mullahs – L’Express

Masih Alinejad bareheaded against the mullahs – LExpress

“Woman, life, freedom”: in black ink, a tattoo stands out in the crook of her arm which bears the inscription in Persian “zan, jian, azadi”. We only notice it when, carried away by her words, she raises her arm. For the rest, Masih Alinejad, already met at the end of 2022 when the protest against Iranian power was more heated than ever, has not changed. A flower always adorns her large mop of curly hair, she never departs from a sober and neat elegance which echoes the dignity and intensity of her fights. Despite her small size, the women’s rights activist exudes captivating energy and strength. His faith in Iranian women is intact, despite the numerous disappointments experienced by the protest movement in Iran. In January 2024 alone, the Islamic Republic executed 65 convicts, often for “espionage” crimes, after speedy trials. Many activists and intellectuals are languishing in Evin prison in Tehran, without this arousing any form of interest from the international community.

During his visit to Paris in November 2022, Masih Alinejad had the honors of the Elysée. This time her arrival is more discreet, almost on the sly after returning from the Munich conference, where during a round table moderated by Hillary Clinton, she carried the voice of Iranian women. At his side, the Belarusian opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, the Burmese minister Zin Mar Aung and the American-Philippine Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. But what struck her the most was a meeting on the sidelines of the summit: Yulia Navalnaïa, who had just learned of the death of her husband, Alexeï Navalny, who died on February 16 in detention in Russia. “I feel close to his story because Navalny was a fighter who did not want to be seen as a victim. There are many women in Iranian prisons who, like Navalny, do not want to be victims, they are fighters. “

READ ALSO: Shirin Ebadi: the women’s revolution in the Middle East, an irreversible movement

Although she is not always unanimous within the very divided Iranian opposition, Masih Alinejad has established herself for many years as an essential symbol of voices from Iran. The journalist, experienced in the media exercise, knows how to capture attention. Each of his sentences could be a slogan. But, beyond this oratorical talent, it is his authentic commitment which wins over the audience in each of his interventions. During her discussions, she regularly holds up her phone to show messages received via encrypted messaging, which she takes as proof that the heart of the Iranian movement still beats. Like that of the father of Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian Kurd arrested for a poorly worn veil in September 2022 and died in prison, which had provoked the wave of demonstrations in the country. “It is very dangerous for him to contact me,” she recalls. Indeed, entering into contact with members of the resistance abroad, and in particular Masih Alinejad, is considered a crime in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The opponent is one of the regime’s main pet peeves. Even before “Woman, Life, Freedom”, the Iranian authorities had her in their sights: she has been encouraging for years – via a campaign launched in 2014 on social networks – Iranian women to post videos of themselves revealing themselves in public in Iran, capturing what she called “My Stealthy Freedom.” Masih Alinejad wore this veil for years, notably when she was a journalist in Iran. During his youth there were some more open newspapers, at the time of what was called the Iranian Spring, at the end of the 1990s, under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. But this illusion did not last and notably ended with the green movement of 2009, which was violently repressed. Forced to leave the country, notably after an openly critical article by then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Masih Alinejad took refuge in the United Kingdom and the United States. An exile that she recounts in particular in The Wind in the Air (The Wind in My Hair, Ed. Little, Brown and Company, 2018, not translated into French).

In a demonstration against the Iranian regime in Washington DC, on September 16, a year after the death of Mahsa Amini.

© / Middle East Images via AFP

Kidnapping and assassination attempts

However, the Iranian authorities have not forgotten it. In 2020, she was the subject of a kidnapping attempt. In July 2022, a man was surprised in front of her home. The investigation will reveal an assassination plan. The intruder, as well as two accomplices, part of an Eastern European mafia, were indicted in the United States. Today, at 47, always accompanied by her husband Kambiz Forouhar – as silent and discreet as she is flamboyant – she travels around the world to convince governments to act against the Islamic Republic. In the United States, faced with the threats weighing on her, she only lives under police protection in safe places. The harassment does not stop with her: in Iran, her brother was arrested several times, her sister had to disown her on public television and her mother was questioned numerous times. “I carry within me the wounds and scars of this dictatorship,” she confides. The situation she is experiencing is the lot of many opponents of the Tehran regime. If her kidnapping had materialized in 2020, she could have suffered the same fate as one of her close friends, journalist Rouhollah Zam. While living in Paris where he had refugee status, he was kidnapped during a stay in Iraq, then taken to Iran where he was sentenced to death and hanged. An article from Washington Post dating from December 2022 revealed that many personalities were targeted abroad by the Islamic Republic. Cornered by the protests on its soil, the regime maintains its capacity to terrorize its citizens beyond its borders.

READ ALSO: Hamas, Houthis, nuclear: Iran’s hidden plan to destabilize the world

If Mahsa Amini’s father contacted Masih Alinejad at his own risk, it was because he wanted to alert the world: not only did they kill his daughter but they also took away her passport and prevented her from traveling, to withdraw the Sakharov Prize awarded to his daughter posthumously. “What is the point of awarding us prizes? Recognition? Masih Alinejad exclaims. Instead, worry about our freedom and support the Iranians who are demonstrating. Mahsa Amini was not only a victim, but the symbol of revolution. Giving back his father’s freedom of movement should be a priority for those who awarded him the prize. So leaders of democratic countries, I want to see you act!” Masih also mentions Narges Mohammadi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate locked in Iranian jails, or the journalist and human rights activist Sepideh Gholian. Women who, alongside around sixty fellow inmates of Evin prison, went on hunger strike. In addition to the common demand of many opponents, namely to put the Revolutionary Guards on the list of terrorist organizations, their ambition today is to have the crime of “gender apartheid” recognized, of which the Islamic Republic of Iran is guilty. Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Asked whether we should not nevertheless maintain a line of dialogue with the Islamic Republic, in particular on the subject of the nuclear threat, the activist concedes having heard this comment multiple times from various foreign ministers. Europeans she met. Although, since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, she notes that she now has a more attentive ear to officials in the West. “No war in the region will end as long as the Islamic Republic persists,” she warns. “Western countries spent resources for two decades to conclude a nuclear agreement. To achieve what? Nothing! The agreement has only served to enrich the Revolutionary Guards and terrorist groups linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran!” If she insists on traveling to convince leaders, it is so that the West understands the threat to the democratic model. “What dictators want is to spread their ideology everywhere. They are everywhere, even here in France. Believe me, if you don’t help us isolate Islamic ideology, you will face the same thing, an Islamist who will tell your daughter not to go to the swimming pool, not to enter a stadium, or to cover her hair. The actions of dictators must not go unanswered, she implores, while the autocracies – China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela – provide each other with logistical and ideological support. “Navalny’s brutal murder is a terrifying reminder of what can happen if the world does not come together to stop Putin. Rest assured that other dictators will follow the path he has charted. This is a war against democracy.”