Last month, the streets of Tehran erupted in violence after disputed election results were announced June 13. Over the course of the next few days much of Tehran lost cell phone service and many Internet sites were blocked as the government cracked down on protesters. Foreign journalists were banned from covering rallies on the street—many had their visas revoked.
I followed the events unfolding on the ground in Tehran through the Facebook posts of an acquaintance I met at a journalism conference—photojournalist Iason Athanasiadis-Fowden was covering the elections for The Washington Times. On June 13, a female friend took over Iason’s account: “Iason is in Tehran and FB is blocked. I am posting for him.” On June 15: “to friends……..update he is ok.” Two days later, the posts stopped.
On June 17, Iason was arrested as he was attempting to leave Iran; his visa was due to expire that same day. He was charged with espionage and thrown in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison and detained there for three weeks.
After his release on July 5, Iason spoke to FRONTLINE/World’s Joe Rubin in an iWitness account. Watch the video, which was published online today:
Iason also wrote of his experience in prison for The Washington Times:
My first bazjoo, or interrogator, was a silky-voiced presence with a rough streak who slapped me if I dared look behind me where he sat and conducted our discussions. His questions were general and betrayed how little he knew about who I was: Who were the Iranians I had met outside Iran? What payment methods did my newspaper use? Where had I gone over the past week?
When I dallied or refused to answer a question, he would fly into a rage and shout at me that I wasn’t there to “just eat and sleep. We want answers from you; you are accused of heinous crimes.”
When I answered a question about the fees paid me by my newspapers, he laughed derisively and told me, “You should have told me earlier, and I would have paid you that money out of my own pocket.”
One night, a guard came and pulled me out of my cell for what I could tell would be a special session. Entering the interrogation room, I sat at the front, removed my blindfold and stared at green uneven walls from which a hairy substance protruded, presumably for soundproofing. The hush did not conceal the presence of several men sitting in the back.
When the questioning started, my bazjoo’s voice was an octave higher, almost theatrical in its showmanship. He clearly had a special audience to impress that evening.
“How are you spending your time, Iason?” he asked.
“I’m reading the Koran,” I told him, truthfully.
“Can you recite a verse?”
I recited the Fatiha and Surat al-Naas — the opening and last verses of the Muslim holy book. When I ended, a subtle barometric shift had occurred in the room’s atmosphere. The interrogation flowed more convivially.
My bazjoo handed me two surveillance images of myself as a younger man chatting with a tall British diplomat in the theological center of Qom four years ago. The interrogator seemed to think it was conclusive proof that I was passing secrets to perfidious Albion. I pointed out that we were surrounded by people and the scene was clearly some sort of social gathering.
Undeterred, he pulled out transcripts of SMS messages sent from my phone. The exchange on which he focused was between my number and someone called Sultan. They were a mixture of English and Persian, most of them flirtatious, but nothing I had never written. Then it dawned on me that they were the romantic writings of the owner of the phone who had lent it to me for temporary use. Laughing, I pointed that out. The interrogation ended soon afterward.