In February, Iran's Intelligence Ministry announced the arrest of seven members of "counterrevolutionary satellite network organizations and Zionist media," whom it said were affiliated with the opposition Green Movement.
The ministry said the detained, whom it accused of having been trained in "various soft subversion and other sabotage techniques abroad," had links to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, while adding that a number of them were officially employed by the U.S. intelligence services.
A year later one of them, Ahmad Jalali Farahani, a former social editor at the semi-official Mehr news agency, speaks to "Persian Letters" about his ordeal. Jalali Farahani, who fled Iran following his release from prison, is currently seeking asylum in a country neighboring Iran.
Persian Letters: You were arrested in Iran about a year ago after you applied for a job at Radio Farda and were interviewed by our colleagues in Dubai. What happened exactly?
Ahmad Jalali Farahani: When I returned [from Dubai] I was arrested at the airport and my passport was confiscated. After a week of interrogation, [the authorities] told me that everything was fine and that I could go on with my life. They even returned me my passport and told me I could travel if I want.
Eighty-eight days after the trip, eight officers from the Intelligence Ministry came to our house. It was at night, 1 or 2 a.m., they beat me up, took away all my documents and CDs , they searched everywhere and kept asking me, "Where are your dollars and your euros, where did you hide them?"
It took those about three hours, then they told me to get dressed and said, "We're taking you somewhere nice." They blindfolded me and handcuffed me and took me by car to Evin prison.
Persian Letters: The Intelligence Ministry then issued a statement saying that seven people were arrested who had been trained in soft subversion and sabotage techniques and who had links with Radio Farda. You were one of them. What was the basis of the charges against you?
Jalali Farahani: When they took me in for interrogation, I asked them to tell me what was the charge against me. For three days they would torture me, harass me, and beat me. I could bear the beatings, but the psychological torture was [worse] -- they would say, "We have arrested your wife and we're going to rape her." They kept telling me that I should tell them with whom I had been touch and received money from, they would ask: "Who did you meet in Dubai?
After three days they took me to the Evin prosecutor's office and there I was told that I had been charged with acting against national security by contacting CIA elements in Dubai. I told them I wasn't in touch with the CIA, I said I went to Dubai for a job interview and was not even accepted, but they kept saying that I met with CIA agents and that they trained me and gave me money to provoke people on [the anniversary of the 1979 revolution] and burn cars, chant slogans, and then record everything and send it to Radio Farda and the BBC.
Persian Letters: Did you receive any training from Radio Farda or any other organization while in Dubai? Were you contacted by any intelligence organization?
Jalali Farahani: No, it was just a [job interview]. But when I would tell [my interrogators] in Tehran that, they would say that I have to confess that I'm a spy. They would call me a spy, they wouldn't say, "Jalali Farahani come here," they would say, "Mr. Spy."
They would tell me that I received $40,000 or $400,000 -- I don't remember the exact amount -- to give to people so that they would take to the streets, chant slogans against the supreme leader, and chant Allah Akbar and you would record that on your cell phone and camera -- they knew I'm a filmmaker -- edit it and send it to Radio Farda, the BBC, and VOA. I would ask them how can one be [trained] in such things in only 48 hours, they would say, "That's what your meeting [in Dubai] was about."
Persian Letters: You were an editor at the Mehr news agency and you were also working with other media in Iran. Why did you decide to apply for a job at Radio Farda?
Jalali Farahani: On the night of the election at the Mehr news agency, we knew that Mahmud Ahmadinejad was not reelected because Mehr had reporters in cities across Iran and we were receiving reports every minute about the results in different cities, we knew about the votes Ahmadinejad had received and the votes that went to Mir Hossein Musavi. We even had figures about the ballot boxes from outside the country.
Around 7 p.m. when we did an approximate count of the vote, we came to the conclusion that Mir Hossein Musavi was the new president. Around 4 p.m. our reporter reported that armed Revolutionary Guards had attacked the central election office of Musavi.
Imagine, we're there covering the news and we're receiving all these reports, around 6 p.m. a friend of mine who worked at the "Iran" daily called me and said that the manager of the paper had told all the staff to come to work to prepare a special issue for the victory of Ahmadinejad -- the election process had not ended at this point.
That night was the worst night of my career, not only me but for all my colleagues -- even those who supported Ahmadinejad who were only a few at the Mehr news agency -- they could see that there was fraud. We knew that it wasn't possible that the votes had been counted so quickly and the result announced with such speed.
I remember I went to the prayer room to do the morning prayer -- many of the reporters were there, one of them was crying and saying to God, "Why are we journalists in a country where fraud is taking place so easily and the vote of the people is [being stolen]." There I said, "God, please help me leave this country."
After the election, there were the protests, the bloodshed, I as a reporter was forced to remain silent and not report about the killings of the people.
Persian Letter: To what extent were you allowed to cover the impact of sanctions on the lives of ordinary people and the economic problems they're facing? The rising prices and difficulties in making a living is the No. 1 issue on the mind of Iranians I talked to.
Jalali Farahani: In general, any news that would be considered damaging to Ahmadinejad's government would not be published. If it was published, then there would be such pressure from the government that the agency would be forced to delete that news or publish other news that would reject it.
Reporting on the sanctions was banned, bringing up the issue of the impact of the sanctions on the life of the people was totally banned, and if someone would do that he would be reprimanded or fired. If we wanted to report about the rising prices, we had to do it in a way that would not upset anyone.
Regarding the sanctions, let me give you an example: if the government would go for nuclear talks to [Vienna] for example and the IAEA would issue a resolution against Iran, we were not allowed [to publish] the news about it as it was. We had to say that the Islamic republic was victorious and that we were successful, it was a national victory -- we would publish the news upside down.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari