Season five: Lethal Dissent: Iran’s Hunt for its Citizens Abroad

On Spec Podcast, in collaboration with The World and PRX, returns for its fifth season with an 18-month long investigation that takes you inside the secret war waged on dissidents by Iran.

As Iran claims to fight for Palestinian sovereignty, it’s hunting down its own citizens who dare to advocate for freedom and human rights back home. Iran claims the dissidents are threats to its national security. Meanwhile, NATO countries claim to support Iranians fighting for democracy but have neglected to give them the support and safety they need. In Turkey, a trial exposes how police and prosecutors worked alongside Iranian agents to kidnap dissidents and return them to Iran.  The effort to kidnap dissidents extends to cities in Europe and the US, and those brought back to Iran languish in prison or are executed.

The Iranian regime fears these dissidents enough to spend millions of dollars on trying to silence them abroad. Its campaign has only grown after events like the 2020 killing of General Qasem Soleimani by a US drone, and an uprising in 2022 sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman accused of breaking the dress code. Iran has even plotted to kill former American officials inside the U.S.

“Lethal Dissent” is produced in partnership with The World, with funding from the Pulitzer Center and Radio Zamaneh.

 

Lethal Dissent: The Fall

In the city where the dissident Mohammad Shabani died, Fariba Nawa finds evidence that points towards his cause of death.

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Lethal Dissent: Losing Touch

The death of poet Mohammad Shabani, an Iranian dissident living in Turkey, catches his friends, family, and supporters by surprise. Fariba Nawa finds one of Mohammad Shabani’s confidantes and learns new details about his life in exile before he died.

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Lethal Dissent: The Poet

When two close friends who work for the Iranian government follow their conscience, it puts them at odds with the regime. Now one of them is dead. To figure out what might have happened, reporter Fariba Nawa goes back to the beginning.

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Lethal Dissent: Prologue

Reporter Fariba Nawa introduces her investigation into Iranian plots against exiles in Turkey. She tells the story of Iran’s history of violence against its citizens at home, and how that violence has grown to cross international borders today. The fate of a dissident in France becomes a blueprint for the questions she seeks to answer.

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CREDITS

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Fariba Nawa/Lead Reporter

Fariba Nawa has been covering global news for 25 years from places like Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and now Turkey. She is also a speaker and author of the book Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey through Afghanistan. A native Afghan, Fariba’s fluent in Farsi/Dari and can get by in Arabic and Turkish. Some recent work can be found in The World, Time, The Christian Science MonitorThe New Yorker, and The Financial Times.

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Beril Eski/Reporter

Beril Eski is an investigative journalist based in Istanbul. Her work focuses on immigration, government accountability and gender across Turkey. She has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times and more. With over a decade of reporting, she was part of a team with the New York Times that won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2024. She has also received the Overseas Press Club Award of America, The New York Times Publisher’s award and the Polk Awards with other investigative colleagues. Native in Turkish and fluent in English, she is still working on Arabic.

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Özge Sebzeci/Multimedia Producer, Photographer

Born next to the Bosphorus, Özge Sebzeci is a documentary and portrait photographer based between Turkey and Germany focusing on stories about gender, migration and ecology. Her approach revolves around establishing trust and intimacy with the people she photographs. She is deeply committed to diverse perspectives in visual storytelling. Sebzeci is a grantee with the National Geographic Society and Magnum Foundation. Her work has been published in National Geographic, Time, Die Zeit, NPR, The Atlantic, NRC Handelsblad,  De Standaard, Horizonte, VG, and 140journos among others. She is a member of Women Photograph and Diversify Photo and Varız Buradayız.

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Nafisa Haji/Host

Nafisa Haji is an American author, born and raised in Los Angeles. She studied history at the University of California at Berkeley, taught elementary school in downtown Los Angeles, and earned a doctorate in education from the University of California at Los Angeles. She is the author of two novels, The Writing On My Forehead and The Sweetness of Tears, is currently working on a third, and lives in Bodrum, on the Aegean Coast of Turkey.

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Chris Harland-Dunaway/Senior Producer

Chris Harland-Dunaway is a senior producer at The World. He splits his time between chasing interviews for the daily edition of the show and working on longform audio projects like, “Lethal Dissent.” Before joining The World, he was a freelance reporter and producer. He’s produced extensively for Reveal and written investigative features for The Verge.  He’s a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism where he concentrated on investigative reporting and audio. Outside of journalism, Chris loves riding and racing his road bike.

Ibby Caputo

Ibby Caputo/Editor

Ibby Caputo is a journalist based in the United Kingdom. She was the Senior Editor of “Overheard” at National Geographic for the first three seasons. She
has worked as a story editor for The World and West Virginia Public Broadcasting and for several podcasts including “The Breakthrough” from ProPublica, and “Seeking Peace” from the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

Hatiye Garip/Artwork

Hatiye Garip is an illustrator, comic artist and designer based in Istanbul, Turkey. She likes to draw birds, flowers and ordinary moments. Her works have been exhibited and published in many countries, including Portugal, Belgium, Lithuania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, South Korea, the USA and UK. She was one of the Adobe Creative Residency Community Fund 2020 recipients in last December. She has recently completed her first picture book Making My Own Way, which focuses on her childhood memories with her grandmother. Hatiye illustrated our third and fourth seasons, and the art for our website. You can see her works at hatiyegarip.com.

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Uzair Ahmed/Music

Uzair Ahmed, a Berklee College of Music graduate from Pakistan, elevates storytelling with the power of sound and music. A skilled audio engineer and producer, Uzair brings his global influences and a genre-infusing approach to projects across different mediums.

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John Klopotowski/Translator & Fact-Checker

John Klopotowski is a freelance journalist and translator based in Northern California and is currently interning for The World. He speaks Arabic and Turkish. John has recently enjoyed reporting on local politics and current events in Oakland, CA—some of this coverage can be read in Oaklandside. He spends his free time wrapping grape leaves and walking his Old English Sheepdog, Augie.

Umar Farooq/Research & Marketing

A physicist turned journalist, Umar’s reporting includes breaking news and investigative features, spanning four continents. He is a recipient of grants from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and the National Geographic Society. He has been a correspondent for The Los Angeles Times, Reuters, and Al Jazeera English, reporting from the Middle East and South Asia, and a national investigative reporter with ProPublica. His work has also appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, the Nation, the Intercept, National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal, and the Christian Science Monitor. Born in Pakistan and raised in New Orleans, he is fluent in Urdu and can do pretty well in Arabic and Turkish.