The Islamist regime in Iran does not lack for spokesmen willing to promote its brutal ideology in the West. In Britain, the regime spreads its message through operatives affiliated with various regime-tied institutions, including the Islamic Cultural Centre in Manchester led by Farrokh Bahram Sekaleshfar, a well-known Khamenei envoy who regularly demonizes Israel and equates the faithful practice of Islam with support for the regime in Tehran.
Sekaleshfar's fellow spokesman, the U.S.-based Sheikh Hamza Sodagar, travels the globe promoting Shia Islamism.
Sodagar, who was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and spent over 14 years studying in Qom, Iran, travels North America and Europe spreading the propaganda of the Islamic Republic.
"Sodagar is a kind of ambassador-at-large for the Iranian regime," Hassan Dai, Director of the Iranian-American Forum, told FWI, adding that "wherever he goes you can be sure it's 100 percent regime-tied."
"The Islamic Republic's one strength and success has been their proxy groups. Recruits for proxy forces are prepared through their propaganda and financial resources," says Iranian-born investigative journalist, Potkin Azarmehr to FWI. "Both of which are facilitated by Western governments under the disguise of religious freedom and charities," he said.
In 2010, Sodagar promoted brutally executing homosexuals, declaring, "If there's homosexual men, the punishment is one of five things. One, the easiest one maybe, is cut their head off, that's the easiest. The second is, burn them to death. Third, throw them off a cliff. Fourth, tear down the wall on them so they die. Fifth, a combination of the above." Sodagar's message appears to directly reflect the gruesome legal system of the Islamic Republic.
Sodagar also supports Iran's hatred towards Israel and the West in general. On April 9, 2023, he broadcast an online sermon hosted by Alwalayah, a California-based non-profit advocacy group that promotes the teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini. In it, Sodagar accused Western powers of trying to control "the Muslim world," called for the destruction of Israel, and praised the Islamic Republic of Iran as the model for the Muslim world.
He called for "people on a global scale rise against Zionism. While the movement is strong ... the armed resistance organizations in Palestine are doing what they need to do. Their brethren outside of that in the surrounding countries are doing what they need to do. What needs to happen and what will bring this regime to its knees and dismantle the Zionist regime is a global march on Quds," he said, adding, "We need to support Hamas. We need to support Jihad al-Islami [Islamic Jihad] and that can only come with an understanding of what they're doing. We need to be clear on that, not just chant slogans."
Sodagar's rhetoric prompted Denmark to ban him from the country for being a threat to public order.
He regularly speaks at pro-Iran regime mosques and institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2012, while studying in Iran, Sodagar spoke at the Imam Khomeini Conference hosted by Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission (AIM) and the Islamic Centre of England—both parts of Tehran's influence network in the UK. During his talk, Sodagar praised Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, declaring he was an example all Muslims should follow.
"He shook the entire globe," Sodagar said.
At the conference, Sodagar made clear his antagonism to the Western system of democratic rule. "I want to draw a comparison between the Islamic system and the phony Western democracies that exist today that consider themselves the rule of the people," he said. Sodagar promoted the legacy of Khomeini and the Islamic Republic. "The difference between an Islamic leader—a Muslim leader, a divine leader, and a non-Muslim, non-divine, even if they call themselves Muslim—is that the leader that is divine never lies to the people," he said.
In 2015, Sodagar spoke at the Islamic Education Center (IEC) of Houston, Texas—praising the Islamic Republic. Just last year, the Houston IEC was caught training their children to swear allegiance to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Similarly, Sodagar has spoken multiple times for the SABA Islamic Center of San Jose, California. In 2013, he told SABA attendees to stop acting as individuals and come together as a community—pointing to the success of the Islamic Revolution as a model. "The Islamic Revolution in Iran was a revolution that people, groups of people, and religious people, started getting active and started working together where there was actually a network within Iran," he said.
When Mahsa Amini died in Iranian police custody in September 2022, Sodagar gave an online sermon in which he defended the police, declaring that the regime did not murder the 22-year-old woman and implying that she deserved what happened to her for her sin of not wearing the hijab. "Whoever doesn't like Islam's hijab for men and women, whoever thinks this is discrimination—go find another religion," he said, adding later, "God knows what her condition is in the afterlife because of all the wrong that she has done...Forget about killed. She was not touched [by the Iranian police]."
Last year, Sodagar told Alwalayah viewers that the punishment for drinking is "80 lashes" and "100 lashes" for fornication. "The Iranian people chose to be governed according to the Quran, and they chose as the Quran says—and as the Hadith say—to have a faqih [Islamic jurist] who is the best faqih that they can find—the most pious, the most righteous faqih, the most politically aware faqih, the most familiar-with-the-Quran faqih. They identified that person: first Imam Khomeini and now Ayatollah Khamenei. We want to be governed by them. We want to be governed according to the Quran."
In late January 2023, Iran Human Rights, an anti-regime organization headquartered in Oslo, Norway, reported that 488 people, including 64 children, have been killed in the protests that began in response to Mahsa Amini's death in police custody in September 2022. According to the organization, the regime executed fifty-five people during the first 26 days of 2023.
Sodagar is one of many examples of the Islamic Republic's vast propaganda network, Azarmehr told FWI, adding, "It's a network that Western governments must hold accountable yet seem to turn a blind eye to."
Susannah Johnston is the investigative reporter for Focus on Western Islamism (FWI).