Life-threatening: Atheism in Iran

Guest article by Reza Ebrahimi Mehr

Reza Ebrahimi Mehr

I am 35 years old, lived in Babol, Iran and grew up in a medium religious family. As I grew older, many questions about religion came to my mind, especially about Islam, which was common in my family.

When I started my studies in Khajeh Nasirodin Toosi University (K. N. Toosi), I met many others like me who criticized Islam. As the internet and social media became more accessible, I was able to do more research on basic and critical issues about religion. That was the point when I understood that Islam is so co-constructed to control and dominate people and has no answer to basic questions. In my country, there are two types of atheists:

  1. a non-Muslim who became a Muslim and after a certain time became a non-Muslim again, which is called apostasy.
  2. was born of Muslim parents, then became a non-Muslim, which is called an intrinsic apostate. Of course, in Iran, most atheists are considered part of this group.

If the regime decides to punish this group, there are various types of punishment. As a rule, Shiites have other punishments besides execution, such as separation from the spouse or division of property between heirs. Whereas in Iran, the only punishment for apostasy is usually death!

Over time, I became more and more certain that Islam is nothing but superstition. As a graduate professor, I taught at various universities. I used to discuss Islam and the Iranian regime at universities in order to encourage students to think critically. I could not openly say that I am an atheist, because that would have meant my death sentence. But I could make suggestions and thus give young people the opportunity to criticize Islam and the Islamic regime itself.

As time went by, I felt more and more pressure from the university staff not to talk about the regime and religion. Several times the university representatives warned me to stop talking about the regime and Islam. I was told that I had to participate in Islamic ceremonies such as congregational prayer, which I refused.

As a result, I was arrested in January 2018 during a large protest against inflation and government policies that took place throughout Iran. Some Sepah security officers (in plain clothes, lebas shakhsi) barged into a café where I and my students and friends were discussing the protest. They arrested us and took us in a van to an unknown underground basement and started physically abusing us with batons. They forced me to confess that I was working with another country’s security organization and that I was a spy.

Although they can easily execute any person who becomes apostate, they prefer to force a confession to show that the reason for execution is not only apostasy but also based on subversive activities. In this way, they want to link atheistic beliefs with politics and anti-state activities. On the other hand, they want to portray themselves well, so that they give a positive image and thus have the approval of the public.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (Reference: Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 18). Despite this article, you face death if your faith is against the Iranian regime, no matter where you live. Muslims, as well as the Iranian regime, believe that any apostate must die.

After the arrest, they never allowed me to teach in universities like Mazandaran University and Babol Nooshirvani University, which were the most famous universities where I taught. They also revoked my license in the Civil Engineering Organization. They boycotted me from working in any organization and prohibited me from getting a business license. When the Islamic regime senses that someone is criticizing Islam, they start to take away everything they have been working for. In the meantime, they forced me to attend the course that was about how to follow Islam to find my way to God!!!! Can anyone imagine how it feels to be forced to believe in another religion? It was really annoying to learn faiths that you don’t believe in. As long as they decide not to kill you, they torture you psychologically to force you to stop thinking and criticizing in order to bring you back to Islam. That is what I experienced. Somehow they wanted me to stop living. The lives of others and freedom and human rights have no meaning for them. What matters to them is Islam and governance. They ruin lives and families like a piece of cake. They don’t care about democracy and freedom of thought, they have to stay and rule others in any way they can.

During one year they had an eye on me and my wife and started to threaten us in different ways: they left a threatening message on a paper, damaged the car, moreover they pressured me by using my wife’s photos to dishonor me.

When I fled to Turkey, I noticed that they arrested one of my former students and nobody knew what had happened to him. Now I live in Germany and the application for asylum is rejected. I do my best to show on social media that the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran is contrary to humanity and justice.