How many people live under repressive regimes

Interview with ARD correspondent Natalie Amiri : "For Iran's rulers, a human life matters nothing"

Natalie Amiri is a correspondent for ARD. She headed the office in Tehran from 2015 to 2020. Now her book is “Between the Worlds. Of power and powerlessness in Iran ”published by Aufbau Verlag. The conversation was conducted by telephone.

Ms. Amiri, you reported from Tehran as a correspondent for ARD from 2015 to 2020. What kind of country is Iran?
It is definitely not a land of black-veiled women, mullahs and camels. Those who travel there get to know an exciting, diverse and inspiring Iran. This applies equally to the impressive landscape and to the extremely hospitable people. That is why it is such a shame that the political leadership itself repeatedly brings the issue of the nuclear program to the fore.

Why is that?
A few years ago I asked Ayatollah Rafsanjani, the former president, the following: Iran has everything: gold, oil, gas, saffron and much more. It is a rich country. Why are you just abandoning this potential because of the nuclear program?

What was the answer?
He only reproduced the familiar phrases: We do not allow ourselves to be talked into our national sovereignty. We have a right to civil and peaceful use of atomic energy. I would have liked an honest answer. But the Iranian leadership is trained to talk for hours without actually saying anything concrete. That drove the representatives of the West almost insane in the negotiations on the nuclear agreement.

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You had to leave Iran a year ago as a precaution. It was said that otherwise you would have been threatened with arrest. They might have been used as a political hostage. Were you scared?
Every time I left Germany for Iran with a queasy feeling. I didn't know if I would be detained on arrival or at least my ID would be confiscated. But on the approach, these concerns were blown away. I only concentrated on my work.

But at passport control, the questions came back: will you let me through? Could the latest reports have been too critical? Did I overdo it? Is the Revolutionary Guard on the next corner to collect me?

Have the secret service and government agencies tried to influence your reporting?
Several times I had to appear at the secret service for a "conversation". In 2010 I was even asked to collaborate. Otherwise, so was the threat, something could happen to me. For example, a truck might run over me. Nevertheless, I kept coming back.

How repressive is the mullah regime?
I have traveled to many countries with repressive regimes. But Iran tops countries like Syria or Turkey in terms of oppression. In Iran, every kind of protest, every form of standing up for human rights, every approach of political opposition is nipped in the bud.

What does that mean for possible protests?
Under such conditions, no counter-movement can develop. When resentment threatens to get out of control, as in 2009, for example, the rulers strike back massively. The security forces do not shy away from deadly violence.

It was the same in 2019. The people demonstrating in the streets were simply shot! Up to 1,500 Iranians are said to have died at that time. People know very well: If you protest in public, your life is in danger.

The idea that the regime can be overthrown from within is an illusion?
The Iranians who are pushing for change are faced with a highly armed state power that is determined to do everything. A human life counts for nothing for the rulers and their henchmen. The individual is so important for the whole country. Israel makes that clear. But in Iran no Iranian woman, no Iranian has this feeling that something counts.

What makes people so angry?
You are very frustrated. The regime has repeatedly and perfidiously promised people for years that something would change for the better, that there would be more freedom. That's why people went to vote in the first place. Especially when reformers were in the running. But nothing happened. That is what makes the majority of the population so angry. The next time it pops, it's right. People are at the limit and therefore even ready to risk their lives.

You write in your book that people thirst for freedom. How strong is this urge?
So strong that Iranians leave their homeland in droves when the opportunity arises. Who can go. You have lost hope that something else could turn out well.

And social media shows them in drastic clarity how well the corrupt ruling elite are doing.

She drives through the streets in her Porsche and lives in chic penthouses, while her own population is tamed with pseudo-Islamic regulations. Everyone is aware of the rulers' lust for power. Propaganda has long since ceased to be believed. The ideology of the Islamic Republic no longer works.

What role does Islam play in the Islamic Republic?
Some time ago, 40,000 Iranians were asked about this in a study. According to this, 40 percent of the population see themselves as Muslim-Shiite. Conversely, that means that 60 percent don't do that. That coincides quite closely with my own assessment - the majority of women would probably take off the headscarf if they no longer had to wear it.

What is the situation with women's rights in Iran at all?
Catastrophic! In court, as a witness, a woman is only worth half as much as a man. You need your father's approval to get married. There is generally no right to divorce for women. The man can forbid you to leave the country. In other words, it's a completely patriarchal, backward, medieval system. And that doesn't fit at all with the women who courageously and intelligently take their lives into their own hands. But nobody allows this system to be changed.

That is precisely why women fight for their rights - despite all the reprisals.
You even end up in prison like the activist and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh. The petite woman fights like a lioness, even in court, and takes on the regime, although she knows what is threatening her. The courage is admirable. Nasrin Sotoudeh once told me: The only thing you have to be afraid of is to be afraid.

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Keyword fear: The international community fears Iran's nuclear program, rightly?
Yes, the danger is great - for the world and the Iranians. If the powerful in Tehran had a nuclear weapon in their hands, they would ensure the continued existence of their regime. Because it would then no longer be possible to overthrow the rulers without further ado.

Why is the leadership so attached to the nuclear program when it is supposedly only to serve civil and peaceful purposes? That doesn't sound very credible. US President Joe Biden has to hurry if he wants to defuse the conflict and prevent the mullahs from possessing an atomic bomb.

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