For Iranian dissidents, the consequences of speaking out can be deadly. “Lethal Dissent,” a new nine-part podcast from The World, GBH’s and PRX’s global news radio program, investigates the price and peril that Iranian dissidents face for speaking against their government and follows the secret operatives who seek to silence them. The series is a collaboration with “On Spec,” a documentary podcast based in Istanbul, Turkey.

For GBH’s Christopher Harland-Dunaway, producing the podcast provided a window into a world few Americans ever see. “I learned how dissidents feel. For most of us, it’s a distant, hard-to-touch, hard-to-relate-to experience of waking up, wanting to say something openly, knowing what the dire consequences could or will be — and then doing it anyway.”

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 Episodes drop every Friday and are free on all major podcast platforms. 

The story begins when two friends — Mehdi Hajati and Mohammad Shabani — flee Iran to escape the regime’s crackdowns on political dissent. But when they arrive in Turkey, one of them dies under unusual circumstances. Reporter Fariba Nawa, based in Istanbul, works to unravel the mystery of what happened, entering the underworld of kidnappers-for-hire and shady government officials and taking listeners inside an Iranian operation to snatch exiles who stand up to the regime. A native Afghan and reporter for “On Spec” podcast, Nawa has been covering global news for 25 years, from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan. 

The World has a decades-long legacy of nuanced reporting on global stories with on-the-ground journalists,” said The World Executive Producer Dan Lothian. “We’re proud to continue our commitment to international storytelling with this edge-of-your-seat podcast reported by the talented Fariba Nawa.” 

The story has all the ingredients that make for an engrossing podcast, said Harland-Dunaway. 

“A podcast needs to have a good plot — and it has to be a topsy-turvy plot that surprises you. It has to go in directions you don’t expect. And it needs to have emotionally unexpected elements — parts that are fun, parts that are tragic,” he said. 

The story fascinates him personally. “I am incredibly interested in stories that reveal something about people and humans at a more basic level.” 

He hopes the podcast will resonate with both the Iranian diaspora and the international community. 

“We hope that the Iranian diaspora will be equipped with the knowledge of how the regime thinks about dissidents and the danger they pose,” he said. “I hope that they are able to protect themselves better,” he said. “I also hope that the international community comes to a deeper understanding of the value of these dissidents.” 

He said he’s hugely grateful to the people who agreed to tell their story. 

“We got very lucky. People were willing to let us into their lives in a way that requires a huge amount of vulnerability and trust,” he said. “A story like this is possible or impossible to tell based on who you talk to and their level of willingness to engage.” 

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