A filmmaker named James Longley, who was nominated for an Oscar for a despairing (natch) documentary called Iraq in Fragments, is making a film in Iran and sent an email to a friend’s blog:
About three hours ago I was interviewing people on the street in downtown Tehran with my translator, not far from the Ministry of Interior building.
There were some riot police about 100 meters away at the other end of the street.
A couple people spoke to the camera – one young woman was saying that “The riot police are beating people like animals. The situation here is very bad; we need the UN to come and help with a recount of the votes!”
At about that time a plain-clothes security guy started grabbing my arm, and together with several uniformed police they dragged me and my translator off to the Ministry of Interior building.
I fared much better than my translator, whom they punched and kicked in the groin. They ripped off his ID and snatched away both our cameras. A passing police officer sprayed my translator in the face with pepper spray, although he was already being marched along the pavement by three policemen.
Unfortunately my camera was still recording and the battery was dislodged in the hubbub, destroying the video file of the interview.
As we reached the Ministry of Interior building they separated us and dragged my translator by his arms across the floor and down a flight of stairs; he eventually regained his footing on the second two flights of stairs leading downward to the holding cell, where about twenty people who had already been grabbed off the streets were kneeling on the floor in the darkened room with their hands tied behind their backs.
All during this process my translator was being kicked and sworn at. The police told him how they “would put their d—s in his a–” and how “your mother/sister is a whore” and so on. At one point he was beaten with a belt buckle. At another moment, they beat him with a police truncheon across his back, leaving a nasty welt.
My translator kept on insisting that he was an officially authorized translator working with an American journalist – which is perfectly true.
At this time I was above ground, in the entrance to the ministry, yelling over and over at the police to “Bring me my translator!” It was clear that they didn’t intend to beat me – although they may have wanted to – because I was a foreigner.
After a few minutes they relented and sent someone off to retrieve my translator from their holding cell, three floors down in the Ministry of Interior building.
They came into the holding cell and shouted “Where is the translator?!” and then, when he identified himself, they beat him again for “not telling them he was a translator.”
An English-speaking riot policeman tried to sweet-talk me, saying that in a riot situation anything can happen. I might have taken him more seriously had a riot actually been taking place when we were arrested. He also asked my translator to convince me not to report what had happened.
Eyewitnesses are reporting that fully-credentialed foreign journalists are similarly being detained all over Tehran today. The deputy head of the Ministry of Guidance just told me on the phone that other journalists have also been beaten, and that the official permissions no longer work. Also, foreign journalist visas are not being extended, so all of those people who were allowed in to cover the elections are now being forced out in the messy aftermath.
All in all, it made me really question what I am doing in this country. It has become impossible to work as a journalist without the risk of physical violence from the government.
Welcome to a theocratic would-be totalitarian country, Mr. Longley. American innocents abroad, volume 312.