Pro-Israel Iranian Dissident Seeking to Continue His Work in the United States

To all who have been following my work closely and to everyone who has yet to meet me — thank you. Thank you for caring about human rights, about our security, about Israel, and about freedom and basic dignity of our friends around the world – both those known to us, and those who do not yet know they are friends.  I spent the past year working hard on helping a number of incredibly courageous individuals in dire human rights situations. I would like to start my conversation about the issues I am most passionate about by introducing you to one of them — my dear friend Emad, who has recently escaped from Iran. He is currently in hiding in Turkey, awaiting  the possibility of entrance to the United States in order to continue his important work in filmmaking and human rights in peace and safety.

Here’s Emad’s story.

Emad at work
Emad at work

Emad Tayefeh, a thirty-year-old film director, animator, and secular liberal activist,  was born and raised in Sadeghieh, a quiet suburb to the West of Iran. He was raised in a religious family which has mistakenly participated in the Islamic Revolution – only to discover that many of its supporters have been woefully misled.

Upon starting the prestigious Shomal University, Emad encountered a spectrum of people from diverse backgrounds and shifted towards opposing authoritarianism in any way possible.The executions of political prisoners and campaigns vilifying minorities raised questions, and more and more seemed excuses for the Ayatollahs. Emad reacted by confronting those who represented pro-regime voices on campus at every opportunity.

He helped found an organization called The Art Club, which, under the guise of extracurricular cultural activities,  promoted peacebuilding efforts with young Jews and Israelis, and staged assorted political events, such as film screenings tied to International Women’s Day.Emad and his colleagues sought to learn the goals, dreams, and interests of their Jewish and Israeli peers and to break down the mutual stereotypes and prejudices perpetuated by the Iranian regime. The organization was infiltrated by regime spies, which landed Emad in prison. Despite being forced to sign agreements to check in with police and to stop his activity with the Art Club under torture, Emad retained his interest in Jews and Israelis, and his curiosity expanded to religious, cultural, historical, and political issues he was unable to explore in Iran.

In 2009, Emad stepped up his political activity by becoming an election observer for Mir-Hussein Mousavi. Reporting widespread electoral fraud, coupled with campus activism, and later, participation in the Green Movement protests against the corrupted election process, led to no end of trouble with the intelligence. Emad was detained, assaulted, and arrested on multiple occasions. Arrests meant lengthy stays at Evin and other prisons, false  confessions, witnessing mock executions, beatings, torture,  and injuries.  Despite these traumatic experiences, Emad continued with his studies and produced a number of short documentaries and animations which eventually were screened at a number of festivals and won prizes.

As a result of his political activism, he had to leave the university for a period of time and to go into hiding. Later, he was expelled from his masters’ program and fired from his job on central television. Still, he insisted on continuing with doing what he could in hopes of bringing down the regime responsible for widespread human rights abuses and sponsorship of terrorism around the world. Emad witnessed the training camps for terrorism and was once attacked by a foreign national serving as a Basiji – member of a volunteer security force initially formed during the Iran-Iraq War, but later used to surveil dissidents and disperse and terrorize protest groups on the streets. When Emad’s cousin, Mohammed Amin Valian, was arrested for his political activities and sentenced to execution, Emad organized protests in front of the court and Evin, despite the attacks on his family and harassment which resulted from his attempts to secure his cousin’s release. Eventually Valian’s sentence was remanded and he escaped to the US, but Emad was arrested, interrogated, and brutalized under suspicion of being an accessory to the escape.

The brutality of the regime, as well as his background in the writings by the US Founding Fathers, informed Emad’s secular liberal republican perspective.  Despite two failed attempts, in January 2015, Emad returned to film a short documentary focused on the human rights movement in Iran. In March, while working frenetically on getting his crew together, Emad posted on Movements. org, asking for assistance with leaving the country.  The next few months were fraught with danger, as Emad struggled to film the documentary focused on the leading human rights activists, as well as families who lost their sons to regime’s horrific practices against dissidents.

Emad with mothers who have lost their sons to the brutality of Iranians prisons
Emad with mothers who have lost their sons to the brutality of Iranians prisons

Emad was assaulted on the streets, and his wrist was broken and burned. He had to continue filming with a cell phone camera when his equipment was confiscated. Only a few weeks later, while filming another short, he was arrested by the security services, likely the IRGC, taken to a secret location, and interrogated. Despite persistent questioning, threats, and a brutal beating, he would not give information against other activists. Emad was eventually released, but returned home covered in blood with a concussion and other injuries.

Emad after being detained by the IRGC, shortly after he retained me to represent him.
Emad after being detained by the IRGC, shortly after he retained me to represent him.

Repeated tortures and persecution gave him a heart condition. Eventually, he made a daring escape across the Turkish border, smuggling his film footage on a laptop… and not much else. He has had to live in near-poverty, subsisting on modest donations from supporters abroad, sometimes going hungry for days. For a long time, he has had to work for free 12-hour days at a film center, in exchange for being allowed to edit his documentary after hours.

His life remains in danger. He is an outspoken opponent of both the hard-liners and the so-called “Reformists”, under whose reign the number of political arrests and executions has spiked. Emad is stalwartly opposed to the nuclear deal, which fails to curb Iran’s dedication to expansionism, sponsorship of terrorism around the world, and gross human rights violations. The regime, in turn, has renewed physical surveillance of the young filmmaker and has continued its attempts to intimidate Emad by a variety of means. All of his electronic devices have been hacked and/or rendered useless by malware consistent with the Iranian intelligence’s tactics of pressuring dissidents at home and abroad. Emad lives under constant threat of physical attacks that can come from any direction. His pursuers are professional, patient, and persistent.

Despite this nightmarish atmosphere,  Emad remains optimistic, hoping to continue the pursuit of his film studies and directorial and animation career in the United States, the land of the free that he hopes will one day serve as a model for a free, democratic, humane Iran.  He hopes one day to film a movie about King Cyrus in Israel – bringing back together two ancient cultures that have so much in common and so much to explore together.

Please help save Emad’s life  and fulfill his dream by calling your elected officials, the State Department, and spreading his story through the media – ask that Emad be permitted to enter the United States and start a new life dedicated to his passion in filmmaking and promotion of human rights.

Emad and cat

About the Author
Irina Tsukerman graduated with a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 2009 and received her BA in International/Intercultural Studies and Middle East Studies from Fordham University in 2006. Her legal and advocacy work focuses on human rights and security issue, mostly in Muslim countries. She is also involved in diplomatic outreach and relationship-building among different communities.
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