An Australian-educated Iranian government minister behind internet shutdowns in Iran should be sanctioned, the winner of the 2023 Sydney peace prize says. The British-Iranian actor and activist Nazanin Boniadi met the Australian foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, in Adelaide on Wednesday morning at the start of a packed Australian tour.
Boniadi – who has starred in shows including Hotel Mumbai, which was partly shot in Adelaide – will use the visit to encourage Australia to do more to stop the Iranian regime’s atrocities. She says Australia should sanction Iran’s communications minister, Eisa Zarepour, who did his PhD at the University of New South Wales. He has already been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union.
Parts of the internet have been shut off during Iran’s protest movement, and that allows the regime to “kill in the dark”, Boniadi says. She also calls for Australia to be part of a multinational move to tip the balance against Iran and to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation.
And she calls on Australians to beware online propaganda and the damage it can do to democracy. “I would urge people to be very careful what they’re sharing and what they’re basically amplifying,” she says. “Because there are definitely global actors – Russia, China, the Islamic Republic – who spew propaganda and what they’re trying to do is break democracy.”
The Sydney Peace Foundation (a University of Sydney foundation) awards the peace prize each year. Boniadi says Zarepour has been “very vocal about the fact that the internet or social media gives voice to protesters”.
“We need to de-platform and disempower regime officials and their cronies, and we have to do thorough checks when these people try to study in our institutions and universities,” she says.
“Instead of empowering them, we revoke the visas of regime officials, we sanction them when they’re implicated in crimes against humanity.”
Zarepour’s LinkedIn shows he did a PhD in nanoscale communication at UNSW from 2012 to 2015, followed by a year of postdoctoral research before returning to Iran. Kylie Moore-Gilbert – one of several Australians held hostage in Iran in recent times – has called for clarification about whether Zarepour holds Australian citizenship or permanent residency.
Guardian Australia has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Wong about his status, as well as that of his family, and has tried to contact the Iranian embassy in Canberra. He has previously denied his family members have Australian citizenship.
In October last year, the US implemented sanctions against seven Iranian leaders because of the “shutdown of Iran’s internet access and the continued violence against peaceful protesters after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly, and died in the custody of Iran’s “morality police”.
Zarepour was among them, sanctioned for his “shameful attempt to block the internet access of millions of Iranians in the hopes of slowing down the protests”. Not long after that, the European Union also added Zarepour to the list of those “subject to restrictive measures in the context of the existing Iran human rights sanctions regime”.
“This is in view of their role in the death of Mahsa Amini and the violent response to the recent demonstrations in Iran,” the EU council said.
Boniadi says that, so far, international efforts have only addressed the symptoms of Iran’s problems – “the next nuclear issue, hostage diplomacy, hostage taking, terrorism, and domestic and regional aggression”.
“We haven’t addressed the cause, which is the regime itself,” she says.
The Iranian people themselves are rising up under the banner of “woman, life, freedom”, she says.
Listing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation (as was recommended by a Senate inquiry in February) would send a strong message to Iran that it is being isolated for both its domestic and regional aggression, she says. A democratic Iran could also help stabilise the Middle East, and having women at the forefront would help that movement have longevity and a real impact.
“Women, life, freedom … it started off as a women’s rights issue, but those are three words that act as a declaration of opposition to a regime that is misogynistic, murderous and repressive, and that extends far beyond women’s rights,” she says.
“Women have paved the road, a one-way road to democracy, and they’ve galvanised all Iranians to walk that road to join them.
“It’s turned into a pro-democracy uprising.”
Amid the current protests, she says, are calls for the regime to stop funding Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. She wants Australia to do more.
“We’re not saying go in and save the Iranian people,” Boniadi says. “We’re saying stop saving the regime.”
Source: The Guardian