Some names within this story have been changed for their protection.
Sargol Ariyai, 25, remembers the day morality police in Iran dragged her mother by her hair, while distracting her father before shoving the family’s matriarch into a van before driving off.
Then in her early teens, she watched from the roadside as her distressed father ran in front of the moving vehicle full of screaming women unaware of their destination, in a futile bid to stop it.
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That was 12 years ago.
But she says memories like this and the Islamic Republic regime’s international tendrils still haunt her family now based in Melbourne, as the situation continues to worsen in her homeland.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: How the history of the Hijab has influenced the Iran protests.
Sargol was just 13-years-old when she, her mother Rana and her father Koroush were stopped. The hem of Rana’s dress finished just above the knee – two inches too short.
“Go buy her a longer (dress). Your wife needs to sit in the van. We won’t leave yet because the van is not yet full,” Sargol recounts the morality police telling her father. “We’re being very nice with you.”
“That was the moment that a lady pushed my mum so hard that she fell into the van,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.
“I started crying, I was literally shaking – I had never seen anything like that in my life before.
“My father said: ‘Sargol, run’.”
They rushed to a nearby stall selling clothing and quickly purchased a longer dress, but as they returned just minutes later they saw the van driving away with its rear doors closed and Rana inside.
“(Dad) just dropped everything and ran to the middle of the street … he nearly got hit, but he didn’t care at the time because he knew what was happening,” Sargol said.
The van slammed on the brakes and Koroush pounded on the front of the vehicle, yelling at them to release his wife.
“They opened the door and let my mother out of the van, but all the girls in there were crying. They were shouting for help, they were begging my dad to help them,” Sargol said.
“I was on the other side of the street thinking that either my mum is getting killed, or my dad is getting killed.
“He didn’t talk at all for a couple of days after, then just he started crying and crying and crying – it was like there was this horror thing on his mind that these girls were begging him for help and he was not able to help them.”
This was one of Sargol’s first experiences witnessing the reality of being a woman in Iran.
During her early adolescence, she would be brought in front of her school assembly and slapped hard in the face by her teacher; then, handed a lifetime ban from taekwondo – her deepest passion – during a final black belt exam, for not wearing a scarf underneath her protective headgear.
“They were all women. It was so hot. I knew I would lose the fight if I wore that scarf. But someone overheard my conversation (with my trainer) and they reported me,” she said.
Sargol never fought again. “My heart felt so broken,” she said.
Fleeing Iran: ‘I remember all of those nights’
Soon after, Sargol’s family decided to flee the country but, with Koroush a valued member of the regime, it would not be easy.
A deeply religious man with a profound devotion to Islam, Koroush was coveted by the regime which hoped to harness his unteachable loyalty, and often recruited to perform tasks like distributing food to those in need.
But charity was just one deceptive arm of the regime. It also forced him to perform acts that left him relatively silent and subdued for days, until there was no choice but to escape.
They staggered their departure, with Koroush leaving last, and flew to Indonesia where they waited three months, sometimes living on the streets, for a boat to Australia.
“We didn’t have any money to eat,” Sargol said. “We were walking around all the night, we couldn’t sleep, we were freaking out.”
With only enough money to buy passage for one member of their family, the asylum seeker boat’s captain chose their father for the place. However, Sargol chased him down later, offering only the currency of personal desperation.
“We don’t have anything,” she told him. “It’s your choice. Either take us and save us, or leave us in the street and take my dad. I can’t go back (to Iran).”
“He was my lifesaver. He told me: ‘Don’t worry, we will take you. Just don’t cry like that’.”
The journey to Christmas Island was treacherous: 150 passengers – including a newly pregnant Rana – crammed onto a wooden boat with a 50-person capacity.
“I remember all of those nights, when we lost our way, the way that our boat got broken, the way that we didn’t have any GPS or phone, the nights we didn’t even know if we were going to make it,” Sargol said.
They did make it, managing to wave down a family sailing on their yacht, who then called the Navy for help. Back in the boat, a passenger who desperately leapt into the water at the sight of the them, narrowly survived the experience.
“He was on my lap, he was dying. People were helping him and I was seeing someone dying. He was drowning, he didn’t understand that it was the sea and not a like a pool. He swallowed so much water,” she said.
“Just thinking about it makes me…”
Sargol trails off at the memory.
The rickety boat shattered under the foot of the first navy official who stepped aboard, as the asylum seekers were rescued.
Sargol would celebrate her 15th birthday on Christmas Island.
But 10 years later in Melbourne, she says “even in Australia, we are not safe” from the clutches of the of the Islamic Republic regime in Australia.
Eyes of the regime in Australia
Sargol’s entire family still live in Iran, but she is only able to communicate with one uncle. “I’m even scared to send him a message,” she said.
“I know a moment later (the regime) are going to come get him. They follow up the people when they’ve got communication with (others) overseas.
“Especially at the moment, in case they pass any sort of information of what is happening in Iran. All the internet, everything has been filtered, so the world doesn’t see what is happening – that they are killing women, children, 10-year-old children.”
“It’s like a horror movie, but a reality, and because I was in that situation I totally feel it. It could have been me,” Sargol said, explaining the situation as “like The Handmaid’s Tale”.
But the watchful eye of the regime is not just in Iran, Sargol said, adding that the Iranian-Australian community are well aware of operatives on our shores keeping an eye out for all who have fled.
“People here, when they go to protest, they have to cover their face, because we obviously know lots of people from (the) regime work all around the world. They recognise you and get all your information, and then they threaten the family back home,” she said.
“We are always silent, because we don’t want anything to happen to the family back home. They try to silence us,” Sargol said.
“My dad’s family, they are in harm, they’re getting tortured, they’re getting everything, because my dad was once in the regime and obviously they know we’re protesting here.”
Hundreds killed amid protests in Iran
The recent unrest in Iran was sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody in Tehran, for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
The early protests have quickly intensified into one of the most serious challenges to Iran’s hard-line establishment in more than four decades.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard general Amir Ali Hajizadehhas acknowledged that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest surrounding nationwide protests, giving the first official word on casualties in two months, without detailing the source of this figure.
That estimated death toll is considerably lower than the figure reported by the group Human Rights Activists in Iran which says 451 protesters and 60 security forces have been killed since the start of the unrest and that more than 18,000 people have been detained.
This figure includes 40 children.
Iranian-Australian scholar and journalist Dr Saba Vasefi asked the one-day Senate inquiry into human rights abuses in the country on Monday why Australia was “looking for a relationship with a raping, child-killing regime”.
“If one of those dead children was a white child, how would Australia respond,” she asked.
Calls on the the Australian government for action
Melbourne-based barrister Ek Taghdir, who also lodged a submission for the inquiry, told 7NEWS.com.au his aim is to “build organisational support for autonomous sanctions”.
He is working with the community of Iranian-Australian activists down under, including Dr Minoo Ghamari who “raises awareness through protests that happen almost every Saturday” in Australian cities and internationally.
Ghamari told 7NEWS.com.au the groups’ protests, petitions and submissions to Senate are asking the government of Australia to “sanction (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) IRGC, call them a terrorist group and export their ambassador.”
Taghdir said sanctions against the IRGC, the regime’s military arm, “is a good place to start”, but added he believes “the entirety of the Islamic Republic regime, the officials and their ministers should be sanctioned”.
Organisations such as the The Women’s Barristers Association have also published statements supporting calls for sanctions against the regime, but Taghdir said: “It’s really up to our foreign minister Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese, our prime minister to make that final call.
“So far, really, they’ve appeared to remain quite silent on that issue. They’re saying the stand for Iranian women, but they haven’t voiced any action they’re willing to take,” he said.
Former Iranian prisoner Kylie Moore-Gilbert also gave evidence to the inquiry and said the Australian government’s response has been lacklustre when compared with other more robust sanction measures from Canada and Germany.
She said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is opposed to sanctions because it holds concerns for an Iranian-Australian dual national believed to be currently detained in Iran.
Her submission to the inquiry also stated that “more needs to be done to crack down on Iranian regime operatives filming and monitoring protests and other forms of legitimate political activity undertaken by the Iranian-Australian community”.
7NEWS.com.au has contacted DFAT for comment.
“The fact that once as a young girl I was brutally arrested and beaten by morality police in Iran sounds like a joke right now compared to what horror is actually happening in the streets of Iran (now),” Ghamari told 7NEWS.com.au.
“As I write this statement dozens of children are being prosecuted for protesting at their schools, their sentence is execution.”
“To Australians who say ‘this is not our issue – we need to focus on Australia,’ I would say, ‘you do not need to save Iranians but you do need to stop helping their murderers by providing a safe haven for them’.”
– With AAP