Opinion by Roya Hakakian

Roya Hakakian is the author of the memoir “Journey From the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran.”

Last fall, Iranian authorities arrested Alireza Alinejad, a 45-year-old father of two, who has not broken any laws, not even according to the officials who jailed him. There would be nothing newsworthy about yet another unwarranted arrest in Iran, except that this one involves an unusual story of familial love, with a brother making a profound sacrifice for the sake of his sister.

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Iran has temporarily freed more than 50,000 prisoners to combat the disease’s spread in the country’s crowded jails, but Alinejad remains in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, vulnerable to covid-19 infection. At his first court hearing last week, the judge would not specify the charges against him and refused to grant parole. According to Alinejad’s defense attorney, the judge’s questioning focused on his sister’s activities.

His sister is Masih Alinejad, an exiled journalist and prominent critic of the clerical regime’s human rights abuses. She fled Iran in 2009 and has lived since 2014 in New York, where she hosts a TV show on the Voice of America’s Persian service. Her followers on social media, 3.5 million on Instagram alone, outnumber those of the country’s president and the supreme leader combined.

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Security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran are chasing unveiled female drivers in Tehran today. Hossein Rahimi, commander of Tehran Province, said he’d given directives so that cars driven by unveiled women would receive a text. Those receiving texts are obliged to show up at the indicated police station to pay hefty fines and receive a warning not to engage in “unveiling” again.


Once again, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s authorities have rattled by the unstoppable wave of women ditching their compulsory hijabs. Nowadays, Iranian women are ditching their forced hijabs at every available opportunity. The fight against compulsory hijab especially gained momentum after our campaigns of #WhiteWednesdays and #MyCameraIsMyWeapon became grassroots campaigns embraced by local activists inside Iran.

As we speak, scores of #WhiteWednesdays activists still remain in prison for simply removing their forced hijab in public. Their unfair imprisonment has been condemned by various human rights organisations including Amnesty International.

Let’s not forget that compulsory hijab is the Achilles‘ heel of the Islamic Republic. It’s a sign of the clerics’ ideology written on women’s bodies. They have taken women’s hair hostage since they came to power. Letting go of that control for clerics also means letting go of their control of the country.

Thank you Roya Hakakian for this very thought-provoking article. As the Islamic Republic feels threatened by the activism of Masih Alinejad, founder of #MyStealthyFreedom and #WhiteWednesdays campaign, it has targeted her family to silence her. They have imprisoned her brother solely because he’s related to her. He has committed no crime, but he still remains in jail.

Women in Iran will shake the foundations of this religious tyranny and will put an end to it. That is why the Islamic Republic of Iran is threatened by #WhiteWednesdays campaign against forced hijab and that is why they have been trying every possible means to silence Masih Alinejad and coerce her. But she has been categoric: “I will not give up my activism. I will stand even firmer and taller.”

“His sister is Masih Alinejad, an exiled journalist and prominent critic of the clerical regime’s human rights abuses. She fled Iran in 2009 and has lived since 2014 in New York, where she hosts a TV show on the Voice of America’s Persian service. Her followers on social media, 3.5 million on Instagram alone, outnumber those of the country’s president and the supreme leader combined.

Over the past few years, Masih’s family members in Iran have come under increasing government pressure to cut ties with her. In 2018, one of Masih’s sisters appeared on national television and denounced her. No one in the family, Masih says, not even her mother, has dared to keep in touch with her — except for Alireza, or Ali, as he is known. In the days leading to his arrest, he had a sense of foreboding and recorded a video message, telling Masih to carry on with her work even if he was detained.”

The Revolutionary Guards came for him at dawn on Sept. 24, handcuffed and blindfolded him in front of their 10-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son, his wife reports, and took him away. Ali’s lawyer says that he has since been kept in ward 2A of Evin prison, a special section for political prisoners operated by the Revolutionary Guards.

Ali and Masih grew up in a small village in northern Iran in a poor, devout Muslim family of diehard supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the nation’s 1979 revolution overthrowing the shah, Iran’s last monarch. As Masih recounted in her 2018 memoir “The Wind in My Hair,” Ali was an ideal brother, loving and gentle, in a community where women were treated like an underclass. He believed that his sister deserved all the freedoms he enjoyed, Masih wrote.

It was through watching Ali, Masih wrote, that she found the contours of her own dreams — to have the freedom to bike, or swim in the village river as he did, to ultimately become the woman she is: a fierce, independent spirit and advocate for women’s rights. As the best-known critic of the Iran’s compulsory dress code, particularly the oppressive hijab law, Masih has inspired thousands of women to defy the government and walk the streets of Iran without covering their hair.

In dozens of self-recorded videos posted online, Iranian women address Masih affectionately as they walk while holding up their mobile phones, speaking with pride and conviction, assuming themselves in charge of their bodies, and deserving of human rights and dignity.

The regime’s propaganda has tried to portray Masih as a disgrace to her family, but she says that she has found great comfort in Ali’s reassurance that he is proud of her and believes in her. His refusal to further isolate Masih by ceasing to communicate with her is almost certainly what landed him in prison.

Ali appeared in court last week before Judge Mohammad Moghisseh, whom the Treasury Department has announced sanctions against for miscarriages of justice and violations of religious freedom. Ali’s defense attorney, Saeed Dehghan, said on his Instagram account, which has since been made private, that the judge essentially treated Ali as a stand-in for his sister.

“My brother’s only crime is that he’s related to me,” Masih said in a news release. “He is subjected to this cruel punishment just to keep me silent.”

No doubt Ali would be released if only he would denounce his sister. By refusing to do so, he is becoming a new kind of martyr in a region that sanctifies martyrdom. He is suffering to uphold the rights of women, but in doing so he is redefining for many Iranians what it means to be a man. For too long, brothers, husbands and fathers have empowered the oppressors, if not through their support, then through silence. A doting brother has shown that men, too, can play a role in the liberation of his nation’s women.

The Washington Post

Their bravery is awe-inspiring. Despite the risk of getting arrested, these women openly opposed the compulsory hijab in Iran. Their names Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arab-Shahi and Mojgan Keshavarz.

Imagine being jailed for defending the most basic freedom: Freedom to choose what to wear! Elsewhere in the world, these women would have been celebrated for their commitment to women’s rights and feminism.

But in Iran, authorities have sentenced them to years of prison and they are being treated like criminals. As the world is presently grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, let’s not forget about these brave souls who are languishing in prison. Because freedom is not free.The international community should not turn a blind eye to the situation of these women. When female politicians visit Iran and submit to the compulsory hijab (under the pretext that it is the “Iranian culture”), they are also justifying the authorities’ repression of Iranian women. After all, compulsion has never been part of Iranian culture. Rather, it is the hallmark of a repressive and authoritarian system called the Islamic Republic, which has killed tens of thousands of Iranians fighting for freedom.

#WhiteWednesdays #MyStealthyFreedom

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In the face of coronavirus, the Islamic Republic of Iran initiated a campaign of lies, deceit, and cover-up. They did so in order to hide the depth of the coronavirus tragedy in Iran.

In this CovidCon conference organised by the Human Rights Foundation, Masih Alinejad goes through how early on the Islamic Republic knew about the crisis, but attempted to conceal the facts.

There are at least 10 pieces of evidence showing that the authorities in Iran tried to cover up the coronavirus epidemic. Now, they’re trying to attribute the spread of coronavirus to American sanctions.

After long denying that the coronavirus had hit Iran, the authorities could no longer hide the outbreak. However, even then, they attempted to capitalise on the tragedy and shift the blame to American sanctions despite the fact that Iranian authorities themselves were directly responsible for its spread. By doing so, the Islamic Republic of Iran tries to blur the waters and wash its hands from the criminal negligence and mismanagement if the crisis by blaming the sanctions. As Masih Alinejad said,

“Some in the international community naively think they have to choose between the Islamic Republic and the Trump administration. No! You only have one option: human rights. Islamic Republic committed crimes against humanity”

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