Accessibility links

Breaking News

Rude Homecoming For Iranian Dissidents

Some dissidents would like to return to Iran under the more moderate Hassan Rohani.
Ali has a message for dissidents and oppositionists who are considering returning to Iran.

Don't even think about it.

The journalist, and many others on the wrong side of the authorities, fled the country following the broad crackdown on dissent that followed Mahmud Ahmadinejad's contentious reelection as president in 2009.

When the subsequent election in August 2013 brought the relatively moderate Hassan Rohani to power, Ali took the opportunity to return.

But while the political atmosphere has opened up in the Islamic republic under Rohani, it apparently is not enough to shield returnees from harassment, or worse.

Some, like Ali, who declined to give his real name, have been subjected to hours of interrogation. Others have been arrested for their role in the postelection unrest in 2009.

Even if Rohani is in a welcoming mood, it seems, Iran's hard-liner are not.

"The Revolutionary Guards and the prosecutor's office are in charge," Ali says, and "they're very much against the return of dissidents."

"The Foreign Ministry and the Intelligence Ministry," he adds, "don't have a say in this."

Open Door Policy

Speaking in New York in September to a group of Iranian-Americans, Rohani said no one had the right to deprive Iranians from visiting their homeland.

"Iranians are the owners of Iran," he said. "Iran belongs to all Iranians."

Ali describes his life in exile as a "nightmare," and says he was "prepared to go to jail for a year or so, if that's what it takes for me to able to live in Iran."

Now he says he "could end up regretting my decision," because "it seems the Revolutionary Guards are getting ready to give me a six-year prison sentence."

Ali says he's gone through tens of hours of intensive interrogations, mainly by the intelligence office of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Another journalist, Hossein Nouraninejad, who is a member of the reformist Mosharekat party and was jailed amid the 2009 unrest, also ran into trouble upon returning to Tehran.

Nouraninejad was arrested on April 21, about a month after flying home from Australia, where he had been studying, to resume life with his wife and infant son.

Nouraninejad's wife, Parastou Sarmadi, told the semi-official ILNA news agency that her husband had been transferred to a section of Iran's notorious Evin prison that is said to be controlled by the intelligence branch of the IRGC.

Authorities have not given a reason for his arrest, which is likely to have a chilling effect on others who are considering a return to their country.

"I think he was testing the waters," says a journalist who had been in touch with Nouraninejad over the past few months.

In interviews with RFE/RL, two other dissidents who have been considering returning home said Intelligence and Judiciary officials have advised them, through their relatives in Iran, to stay where they are.

"They said if I return, I would be arrested," says a Europe-based activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

No Troublemakers Allowed

Highlighting the danger, Judiciary spokesman Mohseni Ejei said on April 28 that four members of the "sedition" -- a term commonly used to describe those in the opposition -- had been put on trial in absentia. He added that some members of the "sedition" who are currently inside the country have banned from traveling outside. He didn't provide any names or more details about the cases.

Arjen de Wolff, executive director of the Amsterdam based Radio Zamaneh, says the message is clear: "They're signaling to [dissidents] outside the country to think twice before they come back."

"I think [the hard-liners] are worried that, now that Rohani is in power and people they don't want back [are back], activities they don't want to see happening are picking up."

It is unclear just how many Iranian dissidents have returned to Iran since Rohani took power in August. De Wolff says he's familiar with four cases, and in each case they were detained and interrogated by the IRGC, and their passports confiscated.

De Wolff believes there could be many more such cases that have not been reported.

Reza Moini, a spokesman with the French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, says Iranian officials don't want opposition members or critics of the establishment to return.

"When they say Iranians should return home, they mean investors, rich people, and those who are in contact with the Islamic establishment and those who can work in the interests of the regime," he said.
Radio Farda broadcaster Roozbeh Bolhari contributed to this report