An Interview With Sahar Zand: The Fearful Rule of the Iranian Government
Killing of 500 Protesters, Public Executions and China-made Facial Recognition Cameras


Sahar Zand, a British-Iranian journalist

Born in 1989. Ms. Zand lived in Iran until the age of 12 when she left the country with her mother and sister to avoid political persecution. After spending a few years moving around several refugee camps in Europe, Ms. Zand settled in the UK. Currently, she is a reporter for many international broadcasting stations such as BBC, Channel 4 and Sky.


Q: Currently, in Iran, the human rights of women and children are severely violated under the strict enforcement of Islamic law. Could you give us some specific examples of legal discrimination against women and children under a theocracy?

Sahar Zand: In Iran, not only is inequality and violence against women legal, but it’s promoted. Women in Iran are second-class citizens. They have almost no access to some of the most basic rights; like divorce, custody of children, and even travel. They also have no legal protection against domestic violence and sexual harassment, and are banned from cycling and singing in public, having sex outside of marriage, or showing more than their face and hands when in public.

In Iran, a woman’s life is literally worth half a man’s and this is evident in the Penal code relating to “blood money” – money paid in compensation to the family of someone who has been killed by the killer. In Iran, a woman’s blood money is half of a man’s. Furthermore, a woman’s testimony in court is worth half a man’s too.

The age of legal responsibility for girls starts at 9 years-old, compared to boys at 15 years old. For these now-considered “women,” this means the start of a series of restrictive and discriminatory rules such as the mandatory wearing of hijab (covering hair with a headscarf and body with a loose and long covering). Additionally, this is the age where they can get married if their fathers say.

Furthermore, and this I still find immensely shocking, Iran is one of the last countries in the world where juveniles, children, can still be executed, and for girls, that starts at 9, compared to boys at 15 years of age.

Another example of discrimination against women is evident in the ‘divorce’ and ‘child custody’ laws. Even Though men in Iran are legally allowed to have 4 wives, and can divorce them easily, for women it’s a different story. The law makes it virtually impossible for women to get a divorce, and only in very rare circumstances; for example if her husband is in prison for a long time. Even then, the custody of children is always granted to the father, or his brothers, unless he specifically decides to give up this right.

In Iran, women seem to be merely viewed as child bearers.

This is evident in other areas of child custody. For example, when your husband dies, unlike most other countries in the world, the woman is hardly ever granted custody of her own children. Her deceased husband’s father does. And if he is dead, or unable, then the deceased husband’s brothers, and so on.

And these are just some of the many, many examples of how women are discriminated against in Iran.

It doesn’t make sense. It’s like a woman is treated like property. You are someone’s property, and you don’t have the same rights.


Over 500 Innocent People Killed Since Iran Protests

Q: It’s been more than one year since the wrongful death of Mahsa Amini triggered massive protests throughout Iran. The Iranian government has reportedly suppressed the demonstrations, but are there any changes happening in Iran today?

Zand: Let’s start with the Iranian government’s approach towards the protesters. We know that the crackdown was brutal. They killed over 500 people within a few months. Over 60 of them were children. 22,000 people were arrested and put in prison. 8 were executed and several died in prison.

Over a year on, the Iranian government continues its crackdown and suppression.

It has escalated its clampdown on activists, journalists, artists, celebrities, students, and educators in different ways such as harassment, redundancies, and arbitrary arrests. The notorious morality police, deemed responsible for the death of Mahsa Amini, which had for a while disappeared from the streets, are back in force in their ubiquitous green and white vans. A new “Hijab and Chastity” campaign has been launched by the regime, introducing harsher punishments including longer prison sentences and hefty fines for women caught without the “correct” wearing of the hijab. To further reinforce this, they have installed a large number of CCTV cameras with facial recognition technology, purchased from the Chinese, to help identify those “offenders.”

Furthermore, the families of those who lost their lives during the protests were threatened by the authorities not to commemorate their anniversaries, and those who disobeyed were arrested. This includes Mahsa Amini’s father.

The message that the Iranian regime is trying to convey is clear; they are not going to tolerate the slightest flicker of dissent.

Q: I once saw an exile from an Islamic disposition say, “Ever since I was a child, I have felt that Allah is a scary God.” Is there a relationship between this view of faith and the reality that human rights are being neglected?

Zand: The Iranian regime has waged a war against its own citizens to stay in power. And for them, religion is merely an excuse and used as a tool to get away with things. Quran is written in old Arabic and it’s very poetic. It’s written in a very loose, poetic, philosophical way; so the way people follow the Quran and its rules are through interpretations. Now, who can do those interpretations? The clerics. Iran is led by the clerics, and these clerics interpret it in a way that’s in line with what the regime wants.


Death Could Await Those Who Go Against ‘God’s Words’

Zand: As we’ve seen in history, the way any authoritarian regime or dictatorship functions is through fear. Because for as long as people are fearful, they are easy to control.

There are two types of fear in Iran. One, if you don’t follow the rules of the Islamic Republic, you are therefore not following the rules of God because they say that they have written the constitution based on the Quran. If you’re not following those rules, you’re going up against God, and you will go to hell. The second way is, if you are going up against God’s Word, the punishment could be death. Every single aspect of life in Iran is controlled through fear.

It’s worth mentioning that Iran has the highest rate of executions in the world after China. They often do these executions out in the open, out on the street, so that sets an example for those who see it.

In Iran, everything in your life is controlled, from what you can eat and drink to what you read, watch, listen and even say. Up until recently, music was banned in Iran. Now, only the music that the regime deems aligned with their values and propaganda can be broadcast. It’s the same for other forms of media. Everything is censored and strictly controlled. There are even books, types of food and beverages that are banned.

Q: Do you think it is possible for Iran to transform itself in a free and democratic country?

Zand: The Iranians I have spoken to believe that Iran can and will become a free and democratic country. I say this with certainty because as history has proven over and over again, that no matter how powerful a regime is, now matter how harsh the oppression is, the darkness doesn’t last. Iranians have shown the world that they want change, and the regime can’t kill and imprison everyone forever. Sadly, I think the price for this change will be the loss of many other lives and freedoms. But one protester told me something that has really stuck with me. She said, “We have nothing more to lose but the chain around our wrists. This is not a life we’re living.” And they’re fighting for life.


Changes Don’t Happen Overnight

Something else that we need to bear in mind is that big changes don’t happen overnight. People in Iran have been wanting change for a long time.

There were nationwide protests back in 2009, and there was another one in 2019, and then there was this one in 2022. We are seeing that these protests are happening over and over again. Each time, they’re bigger. They’re becoming more frequent and people are becoming angrier and angrier. People are breaking the rules any way they can. You can still see on social media women walking around without their head scarf even though it means they would end up in prison. You can still see people putting graffiti up on the street. Iranians are clearly hopeful that change is possible, and they’re taking whatever step they can to continue the fight.

An Interview With Sahar Zand: The Fearful Rule of the Iranian Government
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