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Blogger's 'Crime' Against the Islamic State

February 09, 2005|Farouz Farzami | Farouz Farzami is the pseudonym of an Iranian journalist.

TEHRAN — "Excuse me, Miss, but here in my hand I have a warrant for your arrest," said a middle-aged man with a few days' growth of beard. "Please do not make any noise as you walk calmly to the Mercedes parked at the corner."

When the man approached me, I had just left a bookstore. It crossed my mind to resist, but I thought better of it.

In the car, I was flanked by two broad-shouldered men in black jackets. The man with the arrest warrant drove up Enqelab Avenue and waved the arrest warrant to assure me they were not kidnappers. "We are from the judiciary branch, and everything will be done within the framework of Islamic law," he said. "Do not worry. The whole thing should not last more than a couple of hours."

I was annoyed but relieved, and not especially surprised. Arrest and interrogation of anyone who writes stories critical of the regime has become commonplace in Iran. I am a blogger, and I have written often and honestly about life in my country, so it's an occupational hazard.

When we arrived at our destination, I was left standing outside with the late December sun penetrating the blindfold they had insisted I wear. The cold and fresh air suggested northern Tehran, which meant Evin, the most notorious prison. I stood there for about half an hour, my calf muscles aching.

"Excuse me, how long do you think I will be kept here?" I asked the next person who spoke to me.

"It depends on you," he replied. "If you cooperate, it will be brief."

I was led down a spiral staircase. A woman with a velvet voice asked me to strip and handed me a prison uniform.

"But they told me it won't be more than a few hours."

I was photographed and asked my height, weight, eye color and the number of children I have. "I am single," I said. All this was humiliating.

"That's why you are making trouble for our system," the woman said. "If you were married, you would not have time to write such nonsense."

I was led to a cell, and a heavy, solid metal door was closed and locked. The cell was about 12 feet by 12 feet, with a small sink. The walls were blank, a recently painted cream color. Two gray blankets were folded on the floor. The ceiling was barred. Guards peeped in through a hole in the door every 20 minutes or so. I curled myself in a blanket. I had been expected home at noon. What do they want from me?

On my second day in confinement, I asked a guard, "Do you know why I am here?"

"I don't know," she replied. "Your interrogator will tell you."

The next day, I was taken to a room down a long corridor and told to sit down. A fat hand with an agate stone ring set an interrogation form in front of me. Then he began asking about my Web log, which has hyperlinks on it to Western feminist groups.

"Do you accept the charges?" the interrogator asked.

"What charges?"

"That you have written things in your Web log that go against the Islamic system and that encourage people to topple the system," he said. "You are inviting corrupt American liberalism to rule Iran."

"I've tried to write my ideas and opinions in my Web log and to communicate with others in Farsi all over the world," I said.

He was displeased.

"These answers will lead us nowhere, and you will stay here for years. Tell us the truth. How much have you received to write these offenses against the Islamic state? How are you and your fellow Web loggers organized?"

How should I respond? I knew my mother must be terribly worried about me. What could I say to make sure I got out?

"We are not organized against the state," I said. "I write because I want to criticize the system. There are some things in our state that should be corrected." "Why don't you write an e-mail directly to the supreme leader's office?" he asked. "The supreme leader considers all criticisms and takes corrective actions."

"I hadn't thought about that," I said. This was nonsense, of course, but I saw an opening. "From now on, I will write directly to the supreme leader and stop writing in my Web log."

"It is too late for that," he said.

Back in my cell, I sobbed. After a while, the door opened.

"You can ask for the holy Koran to chant and pass your time better here," the gray-haired matron suggested.

In the next session, four days later, I confessed to many of the accusations against me. As a reward, I was allowed to talk to my mother in the presence of my interrogator.

Over the days that followed, I confessed to many things, including having had sex with my boyfriend, who has his own Web log. The admission filled me with guilt, both for having to discuss such intimate details and for having betrayed him. He is now complicit in the crime of extramarital sex.

I remained in prison for 36 days. Now I am awaiting trial. On my release I was reminded, "Be thankful to God that we arrested you. If you had been detained by the intelligence department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, they would surely have beaten you. Here you were our guest."

Before I departed I was politely asked to fill out a form seeking suggestions for improving conditions in the jail.

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