Iranian dissidents in Canada say they are being watched and under threat from the Irani

There is growing concern of Iranian-Canadians who say they are being threatened, monitored and even followed at protests and outside their homes by affiliates of the Iranian regime that are here in Canada.

"They know the view of my apartment. They say it's a school. I have three cats. They know friends who come to my house," said Maryam Shafipour, an Iranian activist who now lives in Canada and who has spoken out against the regime despite the dangers.

Last year, members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – a branch of Iran's forces designated as a terrorist organization in the US – brought information about his life back to his sister in Iran, Shafipour said, and used it to try to threaten her family. and persuaded him to return to the country.

"After that I cut ties with all my friends because I was so scared," said Shafipour. "I'm just isolated right now."

Shafipour had reason to be afraid. He once spent two months in solitary confinement at Tehran's Evin Prison notorious for "spreading propaganda against the system" - the same prison where Mahsa Amini is being held. Amini's arrest on September 13, reportedly for not following Iran's strict dress code, and death in custody have sparked months of massive protests inside and outside Iran.

Last week, for the first time, CSIS confirmed that it was investigating "multiple threats to life emanating from the Islamic Republic of Iran."

But Shafipour and other activists interviewed by CBC News said they had received no help from Canadian police or government officials and felt threats here were not being taken seriously.

Digital spy worries

Shafipour isn't the only one being monitored in Canada.

In 2021, the FBI published details of a plot to kidnap Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad from her New York home — part of the report reveals plans to kidnap three unnamed people here in Canada.

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran even hired private investigators in Brooklyn, N.Y., and in Canada to spy on Alinejad and four other dissidents, according to court documents.

Shafipour is concerned that the Iranian government has hacked his phone. Curious if there really was spyware on his phone, Shafipour sat down with experts at Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity lab in Toronto that assists human rights activists under the threat of digital espionage.

WATCH | 'Maybe they are already here,' said activist Maryam Shafipour:

He said he was grateful someone took him seriously, adding Canadian authorities were not investigating his case at all.

"We know for a fact that they [the Islamic Republic] have extensive technology that allows them to dig right into people's private phones, know where they are, who they are communicating with," said Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab. .

"It's actually common for people in your situation to have agents or people sympathetic to the government in Canada following them, maybe trying to intimidate them," he said.

Threatening text

It's not just well-known activists like Shafipour and Alinejad who feel threatened; others without a public profile believe it is no longer safe to openly criticize the regime. Two people spoke to CBC News on condition of anonymity out of concern for their safety and that of their families in Iran.

They said they had received threatening calls and text messages to a mobile number that was supposed to be private.

The message warned them to stop posting on social media and talking about Iran.

"I have so many family members living in Iran and I love them. I don't want anything to happen to them," said the woman who received the SMS in Farsi. The text is identical to another sent to activists and journalists in Iran several years ago.

It warned him that speaking to "enemies" overseas via "e-mail... or other communications" was criminal and would lead to prosecution, also stating "It is extremely important that you disconnect and this SMS is a final security alert."

Another person, a young man, received a series of phone calls from a blocked Canadian number and questioned why he was posting negatively about Iran on social media – using a private account.

"He repeated it many times and I freaked out and I cut the call," said the man.

Even scarier, the caller called him by name. He doesn't know how he or his number was found.

Both felt they had been watched during the protest with people in the crowd using their cell phones to take pictures of their faces. They believe that the information was then sent back to the Iranian government.

"I feel scared," the man added.

The two young Iranian Canadians went to the police and said they couldn't get past admission. They claim they were told no one could help them.

"I feel like the police, whether in Toronto or anywhere in Canada... wait until someone dies and then they will do something," said one of them.

CSIS investigates 'multiple threats'

CBC spoke to others who had similar stories and who said they had been to the police, RCMP and even CSIS without hearing back.

When asked by CBC News about the rise in Iranian dissidents receiving threats in Canada, the RCMP said in a statement they believed the problem was "adding" but said they could not count it because they believed it was under-reported.

CSIS has acknowledged that it is monitoring the situation, announcing for the first time last Friday that it is investigating "multiple threats to life emanating from the Islamic Republic of Iran".

"Canadians don't realize how serious this problem is," said Ardeshir Zarezadeh.
Zarezadeh, an Iranian-Canadian who spent two years in solitary confinement in an Iranian prison, believes the regime's presence in Canada is increasing, causing distress and confusion in his community.
"They [the Iranian regime and its affiliates] have businesses here. Non-governmental organizations. Homes. They are everywhere. And everyone knows that," he said.
Zarezadeh said several years ago, a member of the regime showed up at his law office in Toronto after calling for an appointment from a payphone. His promise was denied but he still shows up suddenly, catching Zarezadeh in the lobby.
"He asked to speak to me for my legal services, I told him I was in a hurry, but I immediately felt nervous," said Zarezadeh.
Zarezadeh says he immediately ended the talk saying he had to go and the man left.
"I met so many intelligence officers when I was in Iran. I was arrested 12 times. So many of them interrogated me, so I know how they behave, talk, react."

He immediately contacted the FBI who confirmed to him that the visitor was a known threat and a top regime agent, and warned him to be extremely careful.
He said after the call to the RCMP on the matter, they had not acted on it.
“The RCMP never responded to my messages. What's wrong with the government? Why are they not acting?
Zarezadeh has taken matters into his own hands. He compiled a list of names and addresses of known regime affiliates here in Canada and is prepared to publish that list and share it with other government and intelligence agencies.
"I don't feel safe in Canada. I constantly watch my back, I take people everywhere I go because who knows one day I might get a knife in my back," said Zarezadeh.
CBC News asked the federal Secretary of Public Safety about the lack of police response. We are still waiting for an answer. This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS. 

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