Tina Kordrostami was stalked, attacked and followed through the streets by a heavily tattooed man she believes was an agent for the Islamic Republic regime in Iran.
He climbed into her car when she briefly stopped at a petrol station about 11pm in December 2022. It was one of a series of incidents that alerted Ms Kordrostami, 28, to the fact she was a target.
At about this time, her father began receiving threats against her life, and strange men started to take photographs of her when she attended rallies.
None of this would have come as much of a surprise to her or her fellow activists if she were living in Iran – but she’s not.
She is an Australian citizen, and this harassment took place on home soil.
‘I was being followed through Drummoyne on my way home to Dee Why,’ the Iranian-Australian woman from Sydney’s Northern Beaches said in an emotional interview.
‘We think we will be safe in Australia.’
Tina Kordrostami was stalked, attacked and followed through the streets by a heavily tattooed man she believes was an agent for the Islamic Republic regime in Iran
Mr Kordrostami said she first suspected a man in a van was following her when she left a meeting in Ryde, but it wasn’t until she stopped for food at a petrol station on Victoria Road that her suspicions were confirmed.
The man followed her through the small aisles of the store, and then threw ‘half his body’ into the passenger side of her car when she attempted to leave.
‘He was asking where I was going, if I was heading home, what I was doing,’ she said.
Ms Kordrostami didn’t answer him, pretending not to know Persian. She repeatedly told him to leave her alone, until he eventually said: ‘It doesn’t matter, I know where you live.’
She could hear the Iranian music blasting from his van, which was parked next to her own Jeep.
This graphic shows how Ms Kordrostami was followed after a meeting with fellow activists at 11pm. An Iranian agent confronted her at a petrol station and before continuing his pursuit
She was able to escape, but the man – who was tattooed ‘everywhere except his eyes’ – followed in hot pursuit. The roads weren’t busy given the time of night, but Ms Kordrostami had to ‘weave through the lanes’ to try to evade him.
She realised as she turned onto the Anzac Bridge that he was no longer behind her.
The activist and Greens candidate told Daily Mail Australia she had only returned to the petrol station once since the incident out of necessity, and called her dad asking him to meet her there.
Returning brought back all the emotions she felt that night and in the days that followed, but she agreed with a steely resolve.
‘It is important people know what happened,’ she said.
Ms Kordrostami is one of a growing community of Australian-Iranians demanding recognition and protection from the Australian government.
The man followed her through the small aisles of the Coles Express store, and then threw ‘half his body’ into the passenger side of her car when she attempted to leave
Several have now broken their silence to reveal how the regime monitors their activities using spies and informants.
Australia’s leading security intelligence organisation recently revealed ‘ASIO is busier than ever; busier than the Cold War; busier than 9/11; busier than the height of the caliphate’.
Liberal Senator Claire Chandler is leading the charge, chairing a Senate inquiry into human rights abuses late last year.
She told Daily Mail Australia the harassment of Australian citizens should be a bigger concern for the government, and that she’s heard repeated stories from the diaspora about threats against them.
‘It is definitely happening more often than is being reported on publicly,’ she said.
‘There are individuals in the community that are concerned they’re being targeted. And they’re reporting that to the relevant authorities, but they’re worried those concerns aren’t being taken seriously.’
Senator Chandler pointed to comments made by Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil earlier this year, in which she revealed ASIO had caught a group surveilling the home of an Iranian-Australian citizen and their family.
Ms Kordrostami is one of a growing community of Australian-Iranians demanding recognition and protection from the Australian government
‘We have here someone living in our country who is being followed, watched, photographed, their home invaded by people at the direction of a foreign power,’ she said.
‘If you were told today you were the target of a foreign intelligence operation, I suspect even the hardened professionals in this room might have their hearts skip a beat or two.’
The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Canberra slammed the allegations and described them as baseless. Senator Chandler has sought further details about the incident, but said the government has not provided ‘any clarity’.
Ms Kordrostami and her family, both in Australia and overseas, have discussed how to handle scenarios involving the regime’s authorities.
‘No one is out here trying to be a martyr,’ she says.
When her uncle in Iran was taken in for questioning by the regime, she did not find out for several days.
She said the harassment of Australian citizens should be a bigger concern for the government, and that she’s heard repeated stories from the diaspora about threats against them
Ms Kordrostami says not enough is being done to stop Iranian secret agents from targeting Australian citizens on home soil after her terrifying encounter at this Sydney petrol station
She knows any relatives she has in Iran dismiss her to protect themselves. They do what they have to do to survive.
‘They say, ‘I don’t know who Tina is,’ ‘I have no contact with her,’ ‘She left the country when she was young.’ We must do what we can to protect ourselves,’ she says.
Her family has always been political. She remembers attending rallies with her father 12 years ago, protesting for the rights of Iranian citizens even then.
At the time, she wasn’t so acutely aware of the risks such activities posed. Her father would return home and see pictures of her at his front door, with threatening messages scrawled on the back.
It is a chilling thought, particularly knowing it is happening in Australia.
‘But it’s reached a whole new level,’ Ms Kordrostami says. ‘The threats, now they’re worse.’
Now, she is getting followed home, like the incident in Drummoyne. Members of her community are getting phone calls from people claiming to be police officers, demanding they meet in unfamiliar locations, all with foreign accents.
The Greens candidate told Daily Mail Australia she had only returned to the petrol station once since the incident out of necessity, and called her dad asking him to meet her there
She has been too afraid to walk her dog at night, to leave work after dark, to coordinate the meetings she knows are vital to the cause.
The incident at the petrol station occurred after one of these meetings, ahead of the Senate inquiry into Iran.
‘Our meeting finished at 11pm, I jumped into my car to head back to Dee Why and that’s when I noticed a van following me,’ she says. ‘I was tired, I didn’t take it that seriously, and I pulled into a petrol station to grab a bite to eat.’
Ms Kordrostami says the man jumped out of his van and flung himself into her car. ‘Half his body was in my car, completely tatted-up, asking what I was doing, where I was going. I told him to leave me alone but he wouldn’t get out.’
She felt she had no choice but to attempt to drive away, but still the man clung on. When he finally fell out of the car, he jumped in the van and again started following.
Ms Kordrostami said she was so shaken by the incident she was ‘barely sleeping’.
She has been too afraid to walk her dog at night, to leave work after dark, to coordinate the meetings she knows are vital to the cause
Shortly thereafter, she moved into the home of her then-boyfriend, too terrified to be alone. For the next month, both Ms Kordrostami and her partner would notice cars stopping out the front. The incident was enough to prompt her to stop her activism for a period of time while she decided how to proceed.
She reported the incident to ASIO. Spies had been moonlighting as police officers, meaning many in her inner circle were fearful to report directly to cops.
She says threats have once again started toward her father, including a recent, particularly chilling threat on her life.
‘Recently, there was a mass murder in Albania. My dad was notified it was about to happen and told I would be next,’ Ms Kordrostami claims.
Despite the scary situations she has found herself in, Ms Kordrostami does not believe there is a genuine risk to her life while she is in Australia. She is regularly in touch with government officials and knows that despite these intense scare tactics, Australia is a safe country.
‘This time I told my dad, this is now the time for us to be loud, they want us to shy away,’ she said.
Ms Kordrostami says she ‘welcomes’ the day someone acts on the threats levelled against her
In fact, she ‘welcomes’ the day someone acts on the threats levelled against her. She says many people in her community feel the same way, waiting with bated breath for an incident of violence.
‘If something happens to them, the government can take it seriously. It might be a wake-up call.
‘It is equally sad, but it shows how dedicated we are.’
The 28-year-old says she knows ASIO is putting in the work, collecting data and tracking suspicious behaviour. She claims this research often tracks these people back to the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Both Ms Kordrostami and Senator Chandler say Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been briefed on the matter, and still their concerns are being overlooked.
‘We deserve more of a response than just that it is complicated,’ Ms Kordrostami says.
‘The IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] is a terrorist group, and the regime itself is just a typical extremist dictatorship.’
The IRGC has been linked to known terror groups and it is widely known that it funds extremism in the Middle East. The regime is also funding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
‘Time is up. [The regime] poses a threat globally. We don’t look at other dictators and think, ‘Let’s just let them deal with it.’ Australia needs to act.’
Both Ms Kordrostami and Senator Chandler say Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been briefed on the matter, and still their concerns are being overlooked. (Pictured: activists protest against Iran’s ‘morality police’ in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 7, 2022)
Ms Kordrostami is not alone
Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert is no stranger to the tactics of the regime.
She spent 804 days in custody in Evin Prison in Tehran, one of the world’s most notorious jails, accused of being a spy, before the Australian government secured her release in a prisoner swap.
Dr Moore-Gilbert participated in the Senate inquiry into Iran and revealed that she, too, has been targeted by the regime in Australia.
‘I have had people attend events that I’ve spoken at, stand at the back of the room and record proceedings and ask intimidating and suspicious questions of some of the Iranian audience members at my events,’ she said.
Her phone and computer were both hacked from Australia in 2021, and her financial details posted online. She says there is no doubt in her mind this was the work of regime authorities here in Australia.
Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who spent 804 days in custody in Evin Prison in Tehran on trumped-up spying charges, is no stranger to the scare tactics of the regime
‘It really knocked me about because I did feel safe in Australia prior to that, and I just feel a lot less safe as a result,’ she said.
‘I was really upset and anxious… I [was] looking over my shoulder all the time.’
Dr Moore-Gilbert reached out to authorities via the cybersecurity hotline to seek advice on her ordeal.
She told the Senate inquiry she was dismissed, told there was no direct help available, and instructed to find antivirus software.
‘[It] is a very upsetting thing when you’ve been hacked by a group that has held you hostage for years and held you in prison,’ she said.
The academic, who specialises in Islamic studies, noted the 1,126 submissions that were provided to the inquiry.
Most contributors opted to remain anonymous as they shared their own stories of being harassed in Australia and called on government intervention. Dr Moore-Gilbert said this only further illustrates the fear in the community.
‘Mostly they would have family back in Iran,’ she said. ‘Or they would have uncertain migration status in Australia and they would face the prospect of having to return to Iran.
‘To submit [their names] to an Australian government inquiry could land them or their family in prison in Iran. It’s very dangerous.’
Liberal Senator Claire Chandler is leading the charge, chairing a Senate inquiry into human rights abuses late last year
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, demonstrators say they are often spied on by informants when they attend anti-regime protests here in Australia.
They are photographed, stalked and occasionally approached by ‘strange’ men who appear out of place.
Human rights activist Ana Ware, who contributed to this piece, told Daily Mail Australia she has heard countless stories of harassment in Australia within her diaspora.
‘They’re in disguise. They attend rallies, they take photos of us, they surveil people’s homes. They take that evidence back, share it with the regime in Iran and then if they have family still residing in Iran, they are terrorised as well.
‘Many of us, we could never step foot back in Iran.
‘They go around harassing and stalking, making phone calls late in the night… I was hesitant to be an activist because I was afraid for my safety and my family’s safety – but why should I be afraid? I am an Australian citizen, living in Australia.’
What sparked Iran’s latest wave of protests?
Mahsa ‘Zhina’ Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman, died in September 2022 while in the custody of Iran’s ‘morality police’ – who are responsible for enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
Ms Amini was arrested in Tehran for not wearing her hijab correctly. It’s understood some of her hair was showing. She was detained and died three days later.
Official documents released by the regime state that she suffered a heart attack, fell into a coma and later died, however eyewitnesses claim she was subjected to severe police brutality and beaten.
Her death sparked mass protests around the world and the biggest uprising in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This uprising is now called a revolution under the slogan ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’.
Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman, died last year while in the custody of Iran’s ‘morality police’ – who are responsible for enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code
Female demonstrators were removing their hijabs and cutting their hair on the streets in Ms Amini’s honour.
According to a Human Rights Activists News Agency report published in January 2023, some 522 people including 70 children have been killed by the regime, and 19,400 arrested for their involvement in nationwide protests since September 2022.
On July 17, it was revealed that morality police would once again begin roaming the streets enforcing hijab laws.
Female demonstrators were removing their hijabs and cutting their hair on the streets in Ms Amini’s honour. (Protesters are seen in Rome coming out in support of the Iranian community)
What is the government doing?
According to Ms Kordrostami, Senator Chandler and concerned members of the Iranian community in Australia – very little.
But a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong told Daily Mail Australia the ‘Albanese government has taken stronger action against Iran on human rights than any previous Australian government’.
Ms Wong was criticised when she posted a tribute to Majid Kazemi hours after his execution in Iran. His Australian cousin, Mohammed Hashemi, had been tirelessly petitioning her to intervene.
‘For months I was begging and pleading with her to write to Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister regarding Majid’s case, to no avail,’ he said in a scathing tweet after the May 2023 execution.
‘Even a few hours before Majid’s execution, I once again contacted her office and pleaded for her to intervene… To then see her tweeting after the fact is mind-boggling.
‘Empty politics and slogans over human lives.’
It is understood she opted against naming him publicly prior to his death because government officials had received advice that it could make things worse for those being persecuted and their families.
Foreign Affairs minister Penny Wong sparked outrage within the community when she posted a tribute to Majid Kazemi hours after his execution in Iran
She failed to mention his Australian cousin, Mohammed Hashemi, had been tirelessly petitioning her to intervene
The spokesperson said Ms Wong appreciated Mr Hashemi sharing his concerns and experiences with her, and that she repeatedly called on Iran to ‘cease the execution of protesters and immediately impose a moratorium on the death penalty’.
‘Australia will continue to work strategically to build pressure on Iran internationally.’
In her role as Foreign Minister, Ms Wong has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran in response to the regime’s brutality and support of Russia throughout the war in Ukraine.
These sanctions have been placed on 27 IRGC-linked individuals and 21 IRGC-linked entities.
But the Iranian community in Australia say these sanctions do not go far enough.
Senator Chandler said she is constantly asked by the diaspora why the government appears to be dragging its feet.
‘The next step has to be the government responding to this threat. The recommendations tabled in the report go to the heart of responding to the threats and the harassment,’ she said.
‘The starting point for the government is right there.’
Among the recommendations are a declaration of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as an organisation supporting and facilitating terrorism, and that ‘all reports of threats, intimidation, monitoring or surveillance by the Iranian community in Australia are followed up, recorded and assessed’.
Senator Chandler said she feels for the diaspora, and understands their disappointment with the government’s response.
Liberal Senator Claire Chandler said she is constantly asked by the Iranian diaspora why the government appears to be dragging its feet. (Pictured: protesters in Sydney on January 8)
‘They’ve been making sensible requests to the government for 12 months now… Very clear and very passionate in their advocacy. None of this information is new to the government.’
She is now calling on the government to impose stricter sanctions and to follow the lead of nations like the United States and Canada in declaring the IRGC a terrorist organisation.
‘Right now, we’re still in the same position we were when the Senate report was tabled in February,’ she said.
ASIO’s incredible warning about foreign interference in Australia: ‘ASIO is busier than ever; busier than the Cold War; busier than 9/11; busier than the height of the caliphate’
ASIO’s Director-General of Security Mike Burgess gave a public address in February 2023 exposing the heightened threat of foreign interference in Australia.
He described the current climate as ‘an unprecedented challenge from espionage and foreign interference’ that he is ‘not convinced we as a nation fully appreciate’.
Foreign powers – including some governments Australia ‘considers friends’ – have been targeting Australians more than ever before in Australia’s history.
‘More hostile foreign intelligence services, more spies, more targeting, more harm,’ he said. ‘From where I sit, it feels like hand to hand combat.
‘They are using foreign interference to monitor, threaten and even harm members of diaspora communities.’
The situation is so serious in Australia that agents for our leading security intelligence organisation are run off their feet.
‘This means ASIO is busier than ever before. Busier than any time in our 74 year history. Busier than the Cold War; busier than 9/11; busier than the height of the caliphate,’ he said.
‘I want to dispel any sense that espionage is some romantic cold war notion. It’s not; it is a real and present danger that demands we take security seriously.’
He recounted a recent discovery in which two different foreign nations were working separately to harm Australian residents who were critics of the regimes.
Mr Burgess did not specify which nations had attempted the plots, and urged Australians not to speculate.
He said: ‘In one case, the intelligence service started monitoring a human rights activist and plotted to lure the target offshore, where the individual could be – quote – ‘disposed of’.
‘In another, a lackey was dispatched to locate specific dissidents and – quote – ‘deal with them’.
‘This is what foreign interference can become if left unchecked. This is foreign interference at its most brutal. It is unacceptable and untenable. It is an assault on our sovereignty, an affront to our freedoms.’
Neither of these plots were carried out. ASIO detected and stopped both.