Content warning: This opinion piece contains references to violence and rape. 

Iranian New Zealanders are doing everything in their power to amplify the calls for regime change and freedom screaming out from their homeland.

Over the past two months, the Iranian community across Aotearoa has mobilised and unified like never before to organise rallies, billboard campaigns, media coverage, vigils and advocacy to raise awareness for Iran’s new revolution. 

But as Shabnam Dastgheib writes, hope for a better future comes coupled with helplessness and horror as the most unspeakable atrocities are committed by a brutal regime trying to hold on to power.

I wake up safe every morning, in a place where human rights and democracy are established.

Here in Aotearoa, freedom of speech is a right and my children have access to opportunity and hope to reach their potential.

But these days, my heart sits heavy in my chest and my brain is scattered. 

My phone constantly pings with messages from Iran and about Iran.

Since mid-September, people in Iran have taken to the streets to call for an end to the Islamic Republic, the oppressive theocracy which has ruled them for four decades. Their peaceful protests have been met with the deadliest of crackdowns from the regime’s forces.

I read messages from people I know who are fearful of being killed even when they go out to buy groceries. People I love have had their workplaces ransacked, their property destroyed, their streets riddled with bullets, their friends kidnapped and beaten.

These are people fighting tooth and nail to have just a fraction of the basic rights and opportunities we have here, while I watch from afar, going through the motions of my ordinary privileged life.

I am sent pictures of a young chef killed and a young medical student whose life ended in her prime. 

News emerges of a young protester so severely raped she is hospitalised, and then her almost lifeless bleeding body is kidnapped by prison guards.

I read about a girl whose organs are secretly harvested and her dead body stolen from her family. 

Victims’ families are pressured with torture and death to say publicly that their child was suicidal, a drug addict or killed by the protesters themselves. 

The global media quotes these “admissions” as one side of the story. I despair.

Iranian New Zealanders are working overtime on social media to ensure that the Islamic Republic’s sophisticated propaganda machine doesn’t win control of this narrative. And to try and get our wider community to empathise with yet another deadly and harrowing struggle in the Middle East. 

I wake up to videos of the regime committing mass killing in the impoverished Kurdistan region where the people, who have no weapons, are being mowed down with machine guns and chemical gas to scare them off the streets. 

My throat feels tight as I watch the brave people of Baluchistan call for their basic rights as they are massacred by gunfire from a helicopter by a regime which has held them down as second class citizens and bled them dry for decades.

In Aotearoa, I meet our wider Iranian community weekly at yet another rally to desperately try to raise awareness among non-Iranians for what is happening in our homeland, and to plead with the New Zealand Government to take more meaningful action to show its solidarity.

We discuss whether we could do more to be the voice our people need us to be. 

We tell ourselves there will be a happy ending soon, that it is time. 

We can’t focus on anything else. 

I can’t sleep after hearing of an innocent and loveable nine-year-old boy shot dead while cowering in his car with his family, after he told his mother not to be fearful. He said the guards would protect them this time.

But the regime’s forces are the ones who shot little Kian Pirfalak dead. They have killed at least 58 innocent children in two months.

I watch a video of one of the regime’s forces shouting through a megaphone at protestors that he will kill his own children if he has to. He shrieks that he will do whatever it takes to preserve the system.

Rage bubbles in my throat. 

I read a feature about the systematic rape used by the Islamic Republic’s prison guards on young girls and boys who have been arrested for walking in the streets calling for equality and justice. 

Rape is a common weapon used to quell the protests and to control this movement for women’s rights through fear, intimidation and harm. 

I cycle from grief to rage to fear for my people in harm’s way. I land on helplessness and anger at the silence of the global community. I switch to pride in my diaspora doing its best to echo our people trapped inside this daily hell.

I live in New Zealand and I value my freedom. I have a voice which cannot be threatened by gunfire or batons. When we march at rallies, nobody will come and disperse us with tear gas and smash up our houses. 

But we are still terrified. We are terrified of what will happen for Iran if this movement loses momentum. And we are fiercely determined to not let this happen.

I feel so much pride when I see young Iranian girls ripping off their headscarves in front of soldiers. I watch in awe as these same women march down the street with their heads held high, unafraid.

Every day I see so many pictures of the most incredible bravery from a movement with no evident leader, fighting the most evil forces imaginable, armed only with the most noble of slogans: Women, Life, Freedom.

These days, while I live my happy, safe, quiet life here in Aotearoa, my heart beats for Iran.

 We won’t stop until Iran is free.

Shabnam Dastgheib was born in Iran and moved to New Zealand when she was 5-years-old. She is a former journalist and currently lives in Ōtautahi.

Top Image credit: 1News 

Where to get help:

  • 24 hour nationwide helpline Safe2Talk: 0800 044 334
  • 24/7 helpline Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP: 04 801 6655
  • RapeCrisis directory to services across the country:
  • (Not for crisis support): For education programs around preventing sexual violence: RespectEd
  • Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Aotearoa: 
  • To report your experience to the police, call 111 or the non-emergency line 105
  • 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training. 
  • Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
  • OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community.

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