Photo of Pouria Zeraati (left), Masih Alinejad and Fardad Farahzad (right). Alinejad and Farahzad were both targets of assassination plots by Iran’s regime in 2022. Zeraati was also wounded in a knife attack on March 29, 2024.

Opinion-Stabbing Of Iran International Host Must Be A Wake-Up Call For UK

Sunday, 03/31/2024

Last Friday, my friend and journalist for Iran International TV, Pouria Zeraati, was brutally stabbed in London as he was leaving for work.

The Iranian regime denies any involvement, but I, along with millions of Iranians, hold the clerical regime squarely responsible. Ali Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards bear full responsibility for this crime.

This attack on Zeraati was a sinister message from the Islamic Republic: If you are a dissident, then you are not safe, no matter how far from Iran's borders you may be. It was a blatant attempt to silence those who dare to expose the regime's atrocities, corruption, economic incompetence, and nefarious activities abroad.

The Islamic Republic's strategy is clear: to terrorize activists and journalists, eroding their sense of security and forcing them into isolation. But such terrorism goes beyond physical harm; it aims to sow fear and disrupt their activism, compelling survivors to retreat from public life. This will lead to self censorship.

Another tactic is to sow fear among organizations keen to learn more from Iranian dissidents. I speak from experience, having been the target of an assassination plot by the Islamic Republic. I have remained resolute in continuing my fight but, I've noticed a chilling effect: some NGOs are hesitant to engage with me, fearing for the safety of their events.

In Europe, despite the greater levels of Islamic Republic terrorism, it is difficult for law enforcement agencies to take the threats seriously. Zeraati, for example, had informed the London Metropolitan Police of the threats against him, including some that contained photos of his home. There was no mistaking the message: the harassers knew where he lived.

It is shocking that the Met didn't take the warnings seriously, especially after last November's revelations by ITV news that two other Iran International journalists, Sima Sabet and Fardad Farahzad were targeted for assassination by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). Sabet and Farahzad learned of plots against them not from UK's law enforcement officials but from the ITV broadcast. It is as if the Met has buried its head in the sand, hoping that Islamic Republic terrorism will go away. Their negligence is alarming and contrasts starkly with the protection I receive in the US, where threats are taken with utmost seriousness.

The attack in London must serve as a wake-up call to the international community. The Islamic Republic is not bluffing when it threatens dissidents abroad. It is concerning that Islamic Republic can send agents to the West and recruit criminals to do its dirty deeds with relative ease.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan arranged urgent meetings with me right after the kidnapping plot against me was discovered. UK top officials should urgently meet with Pouria and other targets to send a clear signal to the Islamic Republic’s officials that such aggression is not tolerated.

Of course, the Islamic Republic has denied any involvement in terror attacks beyond its borders. That denial should be taken with a huge grain of salt. The regime has often boasted of its capabilities to capture and eliminate dissidents, gloating over the kidnapping of journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was executed in December 2020, and the abduction of Iranian-German dual national Jamshid Sharmahd from Dubai. Another dissident, Habib Chaab was lured to Turkey from Sweden and then abducted to Tehran where he was executed in May 2023. According to the Boroumand Foundation, a human rights organization, more than 500 dissidents have been killed abroad.

For now, the identity of Pouria's attackers remains unknown, but it's crucial to recognize that the Islamic Republic has a history of employing international criminal gangs for such operations. In my case, they hired hitmen from Azerbaijan. In another famous case, Islamic Republic agents recruited a Mexican drug gang in a failed plot in 2011 to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir.

I am convinced that these terrorist operations are orchestrated by organs of the shadow government that report directly to Ali Khamenei and are overseen by the IRGC.

This brazen defiance challenges Western governments on their own turf. Eliminating troublesome journalists, human rights activists or journalists is all part of the same playbook employed by autocrats in Russia, China, and even Venezuela. Totalitarian regimes are employing the same tactics to silence dissent beyond their borders. It's sad to say but the UK government and its law enforcement agencies have not been up to the task of stopping Russian or Islamic Republic agents from operating freely on the streets of London or in fact any city in the UK.

Transnational repression threatens the very foundations of democracy and free speech. We need to be resolute and confront such terrorism. The first step involves capturing the perpetrators of the heinous attack on Pouria Zeraati. But we should not limit ourselves to taking actions against mere henchmen. We should make the paymasters of terror to pay for their crimes.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of Iran International

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