Despite an alleged plot to lure and kidnap her, the arrest of her brother in Iran and ongoing death threats, Iranian American activist and journalist Masih Alinejad refuses to be silenced.
Eight months ago, the FBI arrived at Alinejad's Brooklyn, New York, home to alert her that she was under surveillance by Iranian intelligence. They had obtained photos of her husband, children and even her as she watered flowers in her garden, Alinejad said.
“It was shocking because I left my beloved homeland to be safe here, and I was like, 'Wow, so now the officials are that close to me,'” she told ABC News Live Prime, adding that authorities moved her to several different safe houses.
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A federal court unsealed an indictment Tuesday charging four Iranian nationals with conspiring to kidnap Alinejad for “mobilizing public opinion in Iran and around the world to bring about changes to the regime’s laws and practices.”
Federal prosecutors said the suspects were directed by the government of Iran to conduct surveillance on Alinejad and lure her to a third country to be captured and brought back to Iran.
The group allegedly also targeted people in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. Four suspects are believed to remain at large in Iran while a fifth suspect was arrested in California.
“The FBI was asking me to go live [on Instagram from a] safe house ... because they were trying to find out whether the [Iranian] intelligence was going to find out my new location, and they did,” Alinejad said. “I … couldn't believe it. But at the same time, I don't know why, but something just helped me to be more determined, to be more loud.”
While she was still at the safe house, she said that she started to contact some of the mothers whose children were killed at protests in Iran.
“Now, every week, I'm giving them a voice. … I got my power back,” she said. “The goal of the [Iranian] government [is] just to actually take my focus away from my work, from my job, because I'm a journalist. I'm an activist and I'm giving voice to millions of Iranian voiceless people. So I was like, 'You know what, I'm going to do what I'm going to do.'”
Alinejad says “the Islamic Republic is scared” of her in part because she’s a woman.
“You go to my beautiful country, you will be beaten up because you're unveiled. … I launched a campaign against compulsory hijab, and that is why, actually, I'm receiving death threats,” she said. “Of course, it is a scary [thing] that they were going to kidnap me, but that shows that they [are] scared [of] me and millions of other Iranian women, Iranian men, who got united this time loudly sending videos to me saying no to Islamic Republic. That's why they sent someone here in New York to kidnap me. They didn't want to after because they didn't want any, you know, no Americans. So that's why I strongly believe they are scared of their own people. And I'm giving voice to the people.”
In an attempt to discredit her, Alinejad says Iranian national television aired a report saying that she was raped, which was a lie. She also said Iran created a law that if anyone sent her videos, they could face up to 10 years in prison.
“I said to myself, 'One day, I didn't give up. I'm not going to give up,'” she said. “Then, after my family, they brought my sister on TV to disown me publicly. Then they interrogated my 70-year-old mother who wears [a] hijab. She has nothing to do with my campaign, but they interrogated her.”
Alinejad's brother is in jail.
She says it was a difficult decision to reveal publicly that she had been the target of the kidnapping plot -- mainly out of fear for her family.
“Sometimes I cannot even breathe when I think about my brother and my family. I love them. I'm a village girl,” she said. “My dream is to be in my own country. But what helps me to be strong and not give up [on] the people inside Iran [is] when I see that women were sending videos to me walking unveiled, which is a punishable crime. These are like Rosa Parks of Iran. So when they don't give up, then I'm not going to give up because otherwise I'm going to actually [be] betraying my own people.”
Now, her goal is to send a message to the Biden administration and other Western powers that the Iranian regime must be dealt with.
“Stand up for human rights values because the regime [is] actually trying to manipulate the rest of the world. And it breaks my heart when I see the people of Iran are being abandoned,” she said. “I want to actually ask all the leaders of the free world to ... not abandon Iranian people.”