Iranian refugees face deportation from Turkey for attending demonstration


Three Iranian refugees are facing deportation from Turkey after taking part in a demonstration against Ankara’s withdrawal from the Istanbul convention on violence against women.

Lily Faraji, Zeinab Sahafi and Ismail Fattahi were arrested after attending a protest in the southern Turkish city of Denizli last March. A fourth Iranian national, Mohammad Pourakbari, was detained with the others, despite not attending the protests, according to Buse Bergamalı, their lawyer.

Hundreds of protesters across Turkey have faced brutal responses from local police for participating in demonstrations against Turkey’s withdrawal from the convention, which aims to combat violence against women by supporting survivors of abuse.

“They were taken from their homes because they joined in the Istanbul convention protests,” said Bergamalı, adding that the four were arrested after police photographed them at the protests and identified them. The four were later charged with “disturbing public order”, and “participating in unlawful demonstrations”.

Turkish authorities ruled earlier this month that the group could be deported, after they lost their appeal against a deportation order issued last April.

Bergamalı said three of the group had been granted conditional refugee status, making it illegal to return them to Iran. “However, there is no indication in the court decision that these people cannot be sent back to Iran,” she added.

The order to deport the group comes amid rising concern over Turkey’s treatment of Iranian dissidents and asylum seekers in Turkey, who number at least 24,300, according to the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR). An estimated 67,000 Iranian citizens live in Turkey, with numbers reportedly rising in recent years as some flee persecution while others look to avoid US sanctions on Iran by buying property and claiming Turkish citizenship.

Bergamalı said the four Iranians she represents have been fighting to remain in Turkey, even as conditions for Iranian citizens worsen. “They are fighting for their lives,” she said. “They came to Turkey to survive. They’re trying to stay here so as not to die.”

Iranian dissidents in Turkey have increasingly raised the alarm that they are no longer safe in a country formerly regarded as a safe haven. In 2020, an Iranian feminist activist, Maryam Shariatmadari, was briefly detained by police in Denizli, after fleeing Iran two years earlier after protesting against being forced to wear a hijab.

Turkish authorities initially said Shariatmadari had been arrested because her visa had expired and she could be deported to Iran, where rights groups said she faced torture or even the death penalty. After a public outcry, Shariatmadari was allowed to renew her Turkish visa and released.

Eleven Iranian citizens, including a former employee of the Iranian consulate in Istanbul, are on trial for involvement in the murder of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, an Iranian dissident in Turkey known for his social media posts criticising corruption within the Islamic Republic. Vardanjani was shot dead on the street in Istanbul in 2019.