“Soon, you will slaughtered in your home. Say goodbye to your family.” This is just one part of a threatening message sent by Hamid Reza Ahmadabadi to journalist and activist Masih Alinejad. Ahmadabadi is one of the best-known members of Iran’s paramilitary and vigilante organization Basij, a subsidiary of the Revolutionary Guards. He is a regular presence at pro-regime demonstrations and marches and at Friday Prayers, and is regularly pictured in the media shouting slogans. Known by the nickname “Wide-Mouthed Basiji” across social media, it is as if one can almost hear him shouting from the photographs.
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist, writer, and women’s rights activist, is also a staunch opponent of mandatory hijab — which she campaigns against on her My Stealthy Freedom website, the campaign's social media presence, and through public appearances. She currently works as a presenter and producer for Voice of America’s Persian Service and regularly reports for other Persian-language media based outside Iran as well. Although Alinejad has faced threats many times from various supporters of the Islamic Republic, she says the violence recently conveyed in Ahmadabadi's threat has shocked her. “Early on when I was threatened I was afraid but this time I cringed,” she said. “I cringe when I imagine how someone can so easily write about slaughtering human beings.”
Hamid Reza Ahmadabadi does not deny that he wrote and sent the threatening message. “Our patience is our foresight,” he told IranWire. “We will be patient as long as our foresight allows it. But she crossed the line. Rest assured that Iranians outside the country will truly punish her. And not just punish her by slapping or kicking her. I say that her tongue must be cut off because she promotes unchastity.”
Besides My Stealthy Freedom, Alinejad also launched the White Wednesdays campaign, which encourages Iranian women to wear a white headscarf in public on Wednesdays to signal their opposition to mandatory hijab. This campaign in turn led to the “Revolution Women” movement that has enraged the Islamic Republic regime and its supporters.
“When I see that Ms. Masih Alinejad promotes corruption and immorality among our girls and women and she is paid $250 for it, well, we have got to punish her,” Ahmadabad said. “Whoever cuts her tongue and brings it to me, I will pay him 24-karat gold equal to the weight of her tongue.”
He also claims that in the past he and his allies had actually beat up Masih Alinejad. “Probably she denies it now,” Ahmadabadi said, “but in the summer of 2009 she was at the receiving end of some slaps and kicks by yours truly because she had crossed the line and uttered insults. It was during Friday Prayers that we pushed that Green Movement crowd toward North Kargar Street when she was slapped and kicked. Of course she denies it but even in England she got the sexual punishment that she deserved.”
The “punishment” Ahmadabadi mentioned refers to a smear campaign conducted by Iranian state television in June 2014, in which it was claimed that Alinejad had been assaulted and raped in London in the presence of her son. Soon after, hardliner commentator TV personality Vahid Yaminpour referred to the journalist as a “whore who should not be elevated to the level of a heretic.” Other reports say the rape happened after Alinejad took psychedelic drugs. Alinejad denied any such events had taken place, and posted a video of herself singing a famous Iranian song about freedom on the London Underground. Alinejad filed a complaint against Yaminpour for defamation and libel but was not successful.
Following the threats from Ahmadabadi, Masih Alinejad has expressed her intention to file a complaint against the well-known vigilante. “I really have no hope in the judiciary of the Islamic Republic,” Alinejad said, “but, at this juncture, when ‘Revolution Women’ are subjected to such violence and are thrown in jail, I believe it is my duty not to allow somebody who threatens protesters with murder and acid attacks to roam free. The Islamic Republic must be held accountable for this.”
She remains angry and frustrated that her previous case was unsuccessful. “When I filed the complaint against Yaminpour, my lawyer was Ms. Pourfazel. She told me he was acquitted. So I have no hope that there will be a just trial. Even so, I will file a complaint because it will point the finger at the judiciary that quickly puts protesters against Islamic hijab on trial, but leaves alone the sick people who engage in acid attacks or threaten people with death.”
But Ahmadabadi dismissed Alinejad's decision to sue. “She cannot complain against me because she has to come here personally,” he said. “Who does she want to be her lawyer? Which lawyer dares to do it?”
One person who will take up the dare is Nasrin Sotoudeh, the prominent Tehran-based human rights lawyer. And Ahmadabadi has also recently posted threats on Sotoudeh’s Facebook page too. “Of course the tone of his messages to Ms. Alinejad is much more violent,” Sotoudeh told IranWire, “but, all the same, I was also threatened and insulted by him.”
Sotoudeh said Ahmadabadi told her to stop what she was doing. “His words were very insulting, especially in reference to my professional duties,” she said. “He wrote: ‘you have dragged your profession into the gutter. Stop before it is too late.’ He meant that if I did not stop, they would take action. This threat and insult is a clear trespass on the inviolability of my profession.”
Sotoudeh says she intends to file a complaint with the court against Ahmadabadi soon.
Sotoudeh has agreed to represent Masih Alinejad in her legal complaint against Hamid Reza Ahmadabadi. “Some families of Iranian officials live outside the country, are free to come and go as they please and enjoy safety and peace,” Sotoudeh said. “In the same way, Ms. Alinejad has the right to choose where she wants to live and enjoy peace. She has asked me to represent her as her lawyer and I have accepted.”
When talking to IranWire, Ahmadabadi insisted that he and his allies “have nothing against Ms. Sotoudeh,” but reiterated his threats against Alinejad. “Go and tell Masih Alinejad to come here if she dares,” he said. When I asked if he had threatened Sotoudeh, he said: “No. What I did was just [a matter of] promoting virtue and forbidding vice. I told her: ‘you have lost your job and suffered so much. Enough is enough. I am giving you brotherly advice: You cannot fight the Islamic Republic all by your lonely self.’”
Acts of Civil Disobedience: A Citizen's Right
In order to make Nasrin Sotoudeh her power of attorney, Masih Alinejad must fill out a form at the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Washington, DC. She recently attended the offices, but because she refused to wear hijab she was not allowed in.
“I want there to protect my life. But for them a woman’s hijab is more important than her life,” Alinejad said. “As an activist and a journalist, revealing the injustice of the Islamic Republic toward women is more important than my complaint, and this revealed another aspect of that injustice.”
She also said that she was physically pushed out of the Interests Section office. “The men there touched me and pushed me because I was not wearing hijab,” Alinejad said. “If I want to shake hands with these same men, they would say: you are a namahram [unrelated woman] and reject my hand. Their behavior clearly showed the hypocrisy of the Islamic Republic and its government. On the day the presidential election was held, the same office allowed in women who were not wearing hijab because they needed their votes, but yesterday they did not let me in because I was without hijab.”
Alinejad had gone to the Interests Section not wearing hijab once before in protest against the mandatory headscarf, and to force the hand of the Iranian officials there. “At the time, reformists outside Iran criticized me,” she said. “They said that the embassy is part of Iranian soil and Masih should have obeyed the laws of the country while she was there. But I was carrying out an act of civil disobedience against the bad law of mandatory hijab, just like the Revolution Women. I wish someday that the reformists who live outside Iran would go to the Iranian embassies in those countries not wearing hijab to support Revolution Women and be their voice.”
Sotoudeh gave her view of the Islamic Republic’s approach to diplomacy. “If an embassy is part of the soil of the country that it represents, then how does the Islamic Republic hope to solve its political differences with other countries by attacking their embassies?” she asked. “When they say that an embassy is on the soil of the country that it represents, it means respecting that country in order to keep good relations with them. This applies to relations between governments. It does not mean that a government can use this principle to violate the rights of its citizens who want passports or need to carry out some other administrative affairs.”
Sotoudeh says that civil disobedience is a citizen’s right. “A citizen might honorably defy the law by choosing civil disobedience. Whatever his or her choice, the citizen’s legal rights must be respected.”
At the moment, Sotoudeh is still waiting for Alinejad’s power of attorney to go ahead so that she can file the complaint against Ahmadabadi. “Unfortunately, as of now she has not been able to send it and I am trying to think of other solutions,” the lawyer said.
Does she believe the complaint can be processed with impartiality? “We want two things,” Sotoudeh said. “The first is to punish the offender and the second is for the judiciary to carry out its duties correctly. We want answers from the judiciary in the face of such threats. If such a thing happens to a citizen, the person responsible for it must be held accountable. We must remember that all individuals, no matter where in the world they live, have the right to enjoy security and peace. Governments are responsible for safeguarding their lives and safety. It is clear what happens to a person who intends to commit a crime on behalf of one government in another country. This gentleman has made threats and then has proudly sworn that he made the threats.”
At the end of my conversation with Hamid Reza Ahmadabadi, he made further threats against Masih Alinejad. “Tell Ms. Alinejad that I swear I’ll sell my car and pay the blood money for her tongue,” he told me.
More on the fight against forced hijab and Masih Alinejad:
The Regime’s Tactics Against Iran’s “Revolution Women,” February 2018
People Want the Choice on Hijab — But the Regime Won't Listen, February, 2018
The Man Who Joined Revolution Women, February, 2018
More Women Protest by Removing their Hijabs, January, 2018
The Woman Who Stood Up Against Forced Hijab, January, 2018
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Masih Alinejad, September 2015
My Stealthy Freedom Documentary, Part 1: A Page Is Born (part 1 of 6), September 2015