The 1979 Iranian revolution, and the years that followed, shaped who I am. I remember being part of massive rallies, captivated by the excitement, chaos, and hope. By fifth grade I had a strong sense of justice, and changed schools from an affluent community to one that served the working class.
I left Iran for the US when I was twelve.
I studied political economics at UC Berkeley, and later earned master’s degrees in environmental science and public policy. For seven years, I worked as an international coordinator and an environmental health advocate, first at the NGO Health Care Without Harm and later at a United Nations Development Program project on toxic and waste reduction. I worked towards building movements in partnership with communities in twenty global south countries.
When, in 2009, millions of Iranians protested the presidential election, and were brutally suppressed, I felt proud and heartbroken. The final straw was viewing the video “Where Is This Place?” Listening to a woman reading her poem through tears shifted something in me, and I decided to organize a global day of action. With rallies in 110 cities, July 25, 2009, turned out to be the largest day of global support for Iran in history. Shortly after, I founded United for Iran.
Creating and collectively growing United for Iran has been the most challenging and rewarding work—my life’s work.
I’ve always cared deeply about the condition of human rights and civil society in Iran. As a student at the University of Tehran, I was a student activist and co-founder of several pro-democracy associations. My activities led to my expulsion from University, in spite of ranking 6th among 5,000 participants in the National Graduate University Entrance Exam.
At United for Iran, I have had the opportunity to help bridge the gap between human rights, civil society, and technology by building tools to empower and enable Iranian activists to create their own destiny. One of the first projects I managed, the Iran Prison Atlas, serves as an advocacy tool for NGOs, activists, foreign governments, and all people working to improve human rights in Iran. More recently, through our IranCubator project, we developed a dozen technological solutions for communities at risk.
I believe technology can play a huge role in changing conditions in countries like Iran, and can help return power to people who have been stripped of it. That’s why I work at United for Iran.
Once upon a time there was a kid named Emily who lived a privileged life in Venezuela. When I was 12, I attended a public school with an open sewage system, not enough desks for all the kids, teachers who wouldn’t always show up, and kids whose parents were bus drivers, farmers, or servants. For the first time I realized just what a privileged life I had been living amidst serious inequity. It was a shock to my system as I began to see all of my friends and surroundings with new eyes. I knew then that no matter what I did in life, I wanted people to enjoy life the have the opportunity to live the lives they deserve. I moved to the US to attend college and graduate school. After I earned my master’s degrees, my birth country took a nosedive politically. As things got progressively worse, the government incarcerated or threatened to incarcerate my family’s friends, colleagues, and even family members without cause; or they would not allow people to be gainfully employed unless they pledged their allegiance… my entire family was displaced…and I was at a loss as to what I could do about the situation.
I left Iran when I was 16 years old. During those years I knew almost nothing about the systematic injustice that took place in my country. At age 20 I began working as a journalist. For the first time, I got a glimpse of the extent to which people of Iran are oppressed by the government. I heard dozens of firsthand accounts from Iranian activists — some of the country’s bravest and most decent citizens — of physical and psychological torture in detention. What had made the experience almost unbearable to many was that no one had borne witness to the injustice they had suffered.
In 2002, I joined Radio Farda and later moved to Voice of America’s Persian News Network where I stayed until Winter of 2014. I studied Women’s and Gender studies at American University and earned a J.D. from George Mason School of Law.
After passing the California Bar Exam, I began working with United for Iran. I feel incredibly fortunate to work in support of Iranian activists inside Iran; human rights defenders whose bravery and integrity inspire me everyday.
As a former political prisoner, I know the importance of protecting Iranian activists, civil society members, and other political prisoners languishing in Iran’s jails. Working as the Lead Researcher of the Iran Prison Atlas is the most rewarding job I could have.
In Iran, I worked as a student activist and helped develop and publish reports for a number of political organizations, including the Advar-e-tahkim vahdat association for alumni students activists, and the influential Office for Strengthening Unity. I also served as a co-author or researcher on numerous reports by the Center for Human Rights Defenders, the organization established by Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi. I was arrested four times and charged with belonging to “illegal” organizations or for “insulting God.” Our protests on behalf of a guest lecturer sentenced to death received enough support to shutdown the university.
During the post election crackdown of 2009, I was summoned to court and threatened with arrest again. Shortly after that, I fled Iran for the safety of myself and my family. At United for Iran, I continue my efforts to work toward a prosperous and free Iran.
My work as a civil society activist began in 2005, when I started my studies in Electrical Engineering at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. While deeply fulfilling on a personal level, my activism was not without cost. I was detained two times in 2008 and 2010 and deprived of a graduate education, in spite of ranking 200th among 10,000 participants in the National Graduate University Entrance Exam. Instead, I was sentenced to prison and lashes.
In May 2012, I fled to Turkey before my sentences could be executed, and stayed there until January 2015, when I entered the United States. In May 2016, I joined this amazing team at United for Iran and have enjoyed every second of it ever since.
It has been a long journey, and dealing with constant change and turbulence of being an immigrant has been a challenge, but I press on on behalf the Iranian students and activists back home who are still suffering in prisons throughout the country. My heart bleeds for them, and I will continue to fight for the belief that all Iranian people, regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity, or other trait deserve to live with freedom and dignity.