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Triumph Over Persecution: The Courageous Journey of an Atheist Seeking Freedom

A middle eastern man smiling in the street of a European city

Sasan, or “Persian Sasan,” as he is known on social media, is a 29-year-old atheist-activist who has been hiding in Turkey since 2016. A human rights defender and a frequent critic of religion, Sasan escaped from Iran because of numerous death threats; he came to Turkey in search of a new, and hopefully safe, life.

In 2018, because of bureaucracy modifications, Sasan went to the immigration offices in Bursa, Turkey to apply for residency. He began to reside there, but continued to receive vicious threats from religious extremists, as well as from the Iranian government and its intelligence services.

After he was able to secure a Turkish identification card he became eligible to apply for help with the UNHCR. He wanted to change his city of residence, so he contacted the police, as he was advised to do, as well as an immigration officer, who steered him on to the city of Konya in west-central Turkey, which is generally recognized as having an under-educated citizenry while being one of the more religiously conservative metropolitan centers in Turkey. Sasan settled down in Konya, but was still receiving death threats on a regular basis. He requested protection from the Konya police force; he tried to explain that his life was in danger, that people were tracking him and seeking to kill him. Regrettably, but not surprisingly, police officers simply mocked him because of his atheism. They did nothing to protect him. He returned to the police again at a later date and tried to re-explain everything, hoping they would take the threats seriously. No luck there; they looked away.

Not long afterward an assassination attempt was made on Sasan’s life right inside his own residence. As an experienced boxing coach Sasan managed to fight his way out of that attempt with his fists. He went to the hospital for treatment, and then again to the police where he reported the attack, informing the officers that he had been located by his pursuers.

He again told the police about the influence of Iran’s intelligent services inside Turkey; he expressed in strong terms his need for shelter and protection because the Iranians knew of his location and wouldn’t stop harassing him. But, again, the police did nothing; they judged him negatively and with prejudice for being a nonbeliever and merely advised him to cease his human rights activism, to go home and live his life.

Frightened and emotionally exhausted, Sasan fled from Konya to Izmir after the assassination attempt. He assumed he would be safer there than in the small city of Konya, and indeed he started to build a life for himself in Izmir. However, out of understandable caution, he changed his address every two weeks, while continuing to work as a boxing coach. Throughout this time he was still receiving death threats on a regular basis.

Sasan then obtained official refugee status in Turkey and therefore became eligible to apply to the UNHCR for protection. However, because of the ongoing COVID pandemic, he couldn’t get access to a UNCHR office. Since then, he had been trying desperately to get help to deal with his situation, and then faced another attempt on his life but this time was too alarmed to go to the police again because they showed their colors: they didn’t care. Sasan felt they might even be sharing his information with Iranian authorities.

About this time Sasan reached out to the Atheist Refugee Assistance Program (ARAP) for our urgent support, and to be heard. ARAP team members devised a strategy to protect Sasan, including the publication of “a fake news story” after the previous attack, purporting that he had been killed. This strategy proved successful and not long afterward Iran’s military service declared him deceased. Media outlets reported that the so-called heretic “was killed at last” and could no longer spread his lies. Sasan was justifiably terrified; his very life and well-being were in constant, never-ending jeopardy.

ARAP program leaders have since provided Sasan with many of our services, such as helping him find a place to live, assistance with securing a job, providing him legal aid and representation, as well as financial and psychological consultations with the aim of remedying his dangerous situation in Turkey.

With Sasan’s permission, the ARAP team shared Sasan’s case details with the Ateizm Dernegi officers. Because Sasan is a boxing trainer and coach, Ateizm Dernegi decided to organize a self-defense workshop for refugees, women, and nonbelievers, which took place in November of 2021. The ticket sales for this workshop were awarded to Sasan by Ateizm Dernegi as a way of providing some financial support. This workshop was also repeated in the city of Izmir in the following weeks.

Two pro bono lawyers have since taken his case upon their shoulders and have already sought protection services for Sasan with Turkish authorities. The ultimate goal is to assist him with hoped-for relocation to a Western country where he can live his life in relative safety and peace, rather than remaining in Turkey, which has become far too dangerous for Sasan and others like him.

Some extremists groups have recently discovered that Sasan is still alive and re-initiated a campaign for his assassination. However, we are happy to report that as of January 2022 Sasan has been successfully relocated to a safe Western country, one he can now call home.

A flyer about an event that the story's hero held

This is the banner of the self-defence workshop organized by Ateizm Dernegi to help Sasan.


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