Earlier this week to mark International Women’s Day, Dabrina shared with politicians her story of persecution in Iran. She was one of several contributors urging the UK Government to do more to bring the Iranian regime to account for violations of human rights and religious freedom.
The panel (L-R): Henrietta Blyth, Taiwo Owatemi MP, Dabrina and Fleur Anderson MP
After being involved in two separate car accidents in Iran, Dabrina received a phone call. It was the intelligence services telling her that the next accident wouldn’t be as harmless.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. “Growing up as a Christian, I got used to persecution,” she told a parliamentary panel discussion titled ‘Iran: Oppressing religious freedom and human rights’ on Tuesday (7 March). It was held to mark International Women’s Day and aimed at highlighting the violation of human rights, including gender-specific religious persecution, in Iran and other countries on the World Watch List. Thank you to everyone who invited their MP and spread the news of this event.
"I have experienced pastors and church leaders being murdered" Dabrina
“I have experienced pastors and church leaders being murdered,” said Dabrina, who has since fled the country with her family after they were sentenced to imprisonment for their Christian activities. “I got used to the fact that my father didn’t show up, didn’t come home. I got used to waiting for him the whole night thinking is he dead or alive.”
Last year, protests broke out in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini whilst in custody for ‘improper’ wearing of the hijab. The incident – and the crackdown on protestors that’s followed, including the killing of nearly 500 people – has exposed the intolerance and brutality of the Iranian regime.
Dabrina first encountered the morality police aged seven. “Walking down the street with my mum, I was told that I needed to be wearing a scarf,” she told the panel. “He insisted that I was tall and looked older and therefore would lead men to temptation.
“This was an assault to my freedom as a woman, but also it made me behave in accordance with a religious perspective that was not mine,” she explained.
The intrusion and surveillance were unremitting. “I got used to the morality police sending an intelligence officer to follow me everywhere I went,” said Dabrina, who was even expelled from university for her faith. “I got used to being called into their offices, hotels, other secret places twice a week, on Tuesday and Sunday, for interrogation.” She was kept in an all-male detention centre without one female officer present.
In the past few months, girls in various Iranian schools have been poisoned. Referring to this shocking story, Dabrina explained that the regime has long been unaccountable, and so their inhumane treatment of people has become normalised.
“The truth is that this government has done so many brutal things for so long, and they have gotten away with it,” she told the panel. “Now they have made it their signature to attack, to rape and to kill their people. They have got away with inhumane action for so many years.”
Dabrina highlighted that Iran are signatories of Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights. “Both compel Iran to provide full religious freedom for all its citizens, including changing your faith and sharing your faith with others,” she explained.
Dabrina’s personal account was welcomed by Fleur Anderson MP, who also spoke at the event. Addressing Dabrina, she said: “There’s so much muting of journalists so we’re not able to hear these things. To be bringing your stories to Parliament, where I hope we can take action, is very, very powerful, and I’m sorry for all that you’ve been through in your life.
“Misogyny is written into the laws of Iran – about marriage, divorce, dress code, nationality laws, travel, inheritance laws,” the MP added. “State-sponsored misogyny is written into the laws as they stand. These need to be changed… We must stand firmly against the Iranian regime, we must ramp up our sanctions regime, we must maximise our support to Iranians on the ground here.”
Picking up on Dabrina’s observation that the Iranian regimes violations have become normalised, Open Doors UK & Ireland CEO Henrietta Blyth reiterated that swift and decisive action was urgently needed.
“Some countries have literally created an apartheid in the name of religion where women are dehumanised and seen as lesser than the men,” she said. “We must not normalise it, we must not accept that this is okay.
"We must realise that faith makes women additionally vulnerable" Henrietta Blyth
“Governments can perpetrate the system of persecution, oppression and discrimination,” she continued. “But they also create the system which enables persecution to flourish. So even if they are not driving the persecution themselves, they can turn a blind eye to it and let the perpetrators get away.
“Once freedom of religion or belief is compromised, once that freedom has gone, so do many other human rights go with it. It’s really vital.”
Henrietta closed by praising the work being down to promote women’s rights, but added, “We must realise that faith makes women additionally vulnerable. It is vital that needs assessments and programme design takes into account religion and faith allegiance as a core part of what’s going on.”
The protests have given Dabrina hope of change. “I’m here to say that Iranian people are not afraid,” she said. “Especially women are not afraid. Their fear has been broken. Women are not intimated, and we’ve seen that in recent protests.”
But the international community must help, and Dabrina closed by urging the UK Government, and their peers across the world, to call the Iranian regime to account for their violations of human rights and religious freedom.
The rallying call was echoed by panel chair, Taiwo Owatemi MP, in her closing remarks: “As a country, we should be pressurising our government to ensure that any development funding that we do invest in considers the role of faith and women and girls in the decision making,” she said. “As politicians in this room, we need to make sure that we ask these questions in parliament and ensuring that the government does listen to our requests today.”
Our sisters in Iran need your help and one vital way you can do this is by inviting your MP to sign a parliamentary petition that will help put this issue on the political agenda.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.