The ayatollahs hold him in a notorious prison as retaliation for my activism against compulsory hijab.
As the Trump administration speaks of placing “maximum pressure” on Iran, my brother Ali Alinejad has become another victim of Iran’s perpetual maximum pressure on its own citizens. Two weeks ago, Intelligence Ministry agents raided his home in Tehran and blindfolded and handcuffed him in front of his two small children, and dragged him away. He is now being interrogated at Iran’s notorious Evin prison. His only crime is being my brother.
Around the same time as Ali’s arrest, a team of seven agents raided my former husband’s home in the northern city of Babol. The agents arrested his sister and brother, again using blindfolds and handcuffs. They too were targeted only because of their connection to me.
Why pick on me? Five years ago on Facebook, I launched My Stealthy Freedom, a campaign against the compulsory hijab, the most visible symbol of clerical rule in Iran.
Since then, women from all over Iran, even in conservative and religious cities like Mashad and Qom, are removing their headscarves and posting photos and videos of their acts of defiance. I receive more than 2,000 messages from these women each day. My Stealthy Freedom has quickly become the biggest civil-disobedience campaign in the history of the Islamic Republic.
Feeling the pain, the regime has lashed out. In late July, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, head of Iran’s Revolutionary Court, announced that I was to be treated as a “hostile government” with which interaction is punishable by up to a decade in prison.
In August, six women were sentenced to a combined 109 years for peacefully protesting the compulsory hijab. One, Saba Kordafshari, is only 20 and faces 24 years in prison. If the authorities thought this would scare off Iranian women, they were wrong. Women continue to send me videos of their resistance.
My brother wasn’t involved in the campaigns. He was, however, my constant source of family news, and I loved to regale him with tales of my amazing sunflowers and the little patch of basil and mint I tend to in Brooklyn, N.Y. His arrest is an attempt to silence me and other women who resist.
Today an Iranian woman cannot travel abroad or seek divorce without her husband’s permission. She cannot be a judge or a member of the Guardian Council, which vets all laws. Inheritance laws are deeply unfair, and the regime even denies women simple pleasures such as attending a sports match at a stadium. Last month a woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for singing in public. Since taking power in 1979, the clerical government has found a way to demean women and restrict their liberties in every aspect of life.
The most pernicious of these restrictions continues to be the compulsory-hijab laws of 1979 and 1983, which require women in public places to wrap their heads in scarves. The compulsory hijab is a way to censor women, erasing their identities and subjugating their individualities.
Imprisoning women who don’t wear hijabs reiterates the Islamic Republic’s constant message: The regime doesn’t recognize individuals as the rightful owners of their own bodies. That’s why it won’t let my relatives leave Iran, even though it forced me into exile in 2009. They’re more useful as hostages.
Hostage-taking is part of the regime’s DNA. The 1979 invasion of the U.S. Embassy and 444-day captivity of diplomats there helped solidify the Islamic Republic. Today Iran illegally imprisons Iranian-Americans Siamak and Baquer Namazi, British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and many more citizens of Western nations.
The arrests of my family members came as President Hassan Rouhani spoke at the United Nations about the West’s “unjust and oppressive actions” against Iran. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif complains that U.S. sanctions prevent him from visiting an Iranian ambassador who is being treated at a New York hospital. What about all the Iranians whose families have been torn apart for decades because of the regime he represents? While Iranian officials invoke sovereignty and justice to get their way abroad, sovereignty of the individual and rule of law mean nothing to the regime at home.
President Trump reportedly seeks a meeting with Mr. Rouhani, and French President Emmanuel Macron pushes to salvage the nuclear deal. I fear the Trump administration will cut a deal with Tehran that ignores human rights, emboldening the clerical regime to crack down on its domestic opposition without concern for international pressure.
Let the unlawful arrest and detention of my family be a warning to Mr. Macron and the White House: Iran’s is a regime of hostage-takers, and hostage-takers cannot be trusted.
Ms. Alinejad is author of “The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran.”