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Source: ABC News

Feb 15, 2023

By Anna Rabemanantsoa

PARIS -- "The revolution is getting organized," said Maneli Mirkhan, a 41-year-old French-Iranian management and strategy consultant, "it is not very spontaneous as it was at the beginning, it is getting organized internally, it is also getting organized externally."

Mirkhan and fellow members of a collective called Femme Azadi -- or "Woman Freedom" -- are among the most active outside Iran in helping what they call "a revolution" in the country, which started after the death in detention of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini on Sept. 16. She had been detained for allegedly wearing her veil incorrectly.

"Our role as a diaspora is not to make the revolution, but to support the revolution," Mirkhan said.

The young collective, made up of a dozen women, many of whom are mothers, has been making waves in France in the months since it was founded online. The group posted a viral video -- with more than 4.3 million views -- they filmed showing the Iranian regime's repression of its population. And they've staged weekly protests, including mock public executions in front of the Louvre and the National Assembly, and they've put the revolution's slogan -- "Women. Life. Freedom." -- on the Eiffel Tower, thanks to their work with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

With a shared "visceral cry" for Iran, many in the group have all put their personal and professional lives on hold, entered the resistance and launched a growing platform to carry the voice of protesters on the ground, some members said.

"My first demonstrations for Iran started with the death of Mahsa Amini," Mona Jafarian, a 40-year-old interior designer, influencer and Femme Azadi's president, told ABC News. Shaparak Saleh, a 42-year-old lawyer, too said she didn't have any experience in organizing, like many in their group.

But many of the members grew up with parents who "are part of this somewhat disillusioned generation, which had a lot of hope in this [1978-79] revolution" and "ultimately from whom the revolution was stolen," Mirkhan said.

About 45 years after the Islamic revolution, many voices in the diaspora say this time is "different."

Protesters hold placards with the slogan "Woman. Life. Freedom." during a gathering on the Trocadero Esplanade to attend the slogan's display on the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, on Jan. 16, 2023.

Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

"This is the moment when my people have the right to be free, to finally be happy, to have the right to democracy, to freedom," Jafarian said, though she too lost hope when the state brutally squashed the 2009 Green Movement, which saw up to 3 million people in the streets asking "Where is my vote?" to contest the results of the presidential election. That scenario was repeated with the 2019 democratic movement calling for the regime to be overthrown.

"I think for the first time, we understood what the Islamic Republic was, and their strategy was always to play us. Their strategy is not reform," Mirkhan states.

"Every victory obtained, the Iranians obtained them thanks to the diaspora. If the Iranians did not have the diaspora, it would be over," Jafarian said, adding, "It's crazy how Iran brings us closer, it creates incredible bonds."

Femme Azadi is also engaging the political realm, rallying more than 100 public figures to sign an open letter to French President Emmanuel Macron to ask him to take action regarding the mass executions. The group in December got about 100 French political figures from both sides of the aisle to sponsor Iranians on death row, calling for help stopping their execution, as part of a joint campaign with Azadi 4 Iran, Iran Justice and ZZE.

Supporters assemble at a Paris conference on Iran, with (from left) Maud Gatel, a member of the National Assembly of France; spokesperson for MoDem Isabelle Florennes; Levallois City Councilor Aurélie Trotin; Iranian activist Ilia Hachemi; Maneli...Anna Rabemanantsoa/ABC News

As Iranians protest their government, at least 528 people have died, including 71 children, while 23,977 were arrested by the regime, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization.

As Femme Azadi's visibility has increased, threats -- online and at their protests -- are now par for the course, members said.

"Now, I always look over my shoulder when I'm on the street," Saleh said, revealing that she recently filed a lawsuit against a man working for an American bank over online death threats.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo delivers a speech on the Trocadero Esplanade during an event to display the slogan "Woman. Life. Freedom." on the Eiffel Tower, in a show of support to the Iranian people, in Paris, on Jan. 16, 2023.

Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

The group is fighting, alongside women's rights organization La Ligue du Droit International des Femmes, to sever the Iranian regime's hold on the small town of Neauphle-le-Château in the outskirts of Paris, where Iran's former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini stayed for 112 days in 1978 preparing the proclamation of the Islamic Republic.

Protesters hold Iran's former flag on the Trocadero Esplanade Trocadero Esplanade during an event to display the slogan "Woman. Life. Freedom." on the Eiffel Tower, in a show of support to the Iranian people, in Paris, on Jan. 16, 2023. Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

"Iran has made this small town a territorial spearhead. One has the impression that this small piece of land symbolizes a piece of the West conquered by the Islamic Republic, the loss of which would become an affront," scholar Iris Farkhondeh recently told a French news outlet.

Contacted by ABC News, the office of Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin declined to comment on this issue.

Femme Azadi's members also said they're working with other organizations to get the Guardians of the Revolution on the European Union's list of terrorist organizations. The European Council is scheduled to vote on Feb. 20. If approved, the listing could accelerate this revolution, they said.

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