Hossein Salehi Ara/Fars News Agency/AP
Maziar Bahari, shown in a photo released in August by the semiofficial Iranian Fars News Agency.
Maziar Bahari, shown in a photo released in August by the semiofficial Iranian Fars News Agency. Hossein Salehi Ara/Fars News Agency/AP
Journalist and documentary filmmaker Maziar Bahari, who was arrested last June after Iran's disputed presidential elections and held for 118 days, says he was threatened with execution so often during his detention that he began to believe that was his destiny.
"After a while, I thought, well, if they want to do it, I shouldn't worry about it," Bahari tells NPR's Jacki Lyden.
Bahari, 42, a Canadian-Iranian, was released Oct. 17. This week, Newsweek ran a story he wrote about his time in the notorious Evin prison.
Bahari was arrested June 21 while sleeping in his mother's apartment in Tehran and taken to the prison, where he was accused of being a spy.
"I was never told why I was arrested exactly," he says. "But I think the reason for my arrest was that I was a filmmaker and a journalist, so they wanted to teach a lesson to journalists and filmmakers.
"And at the same time, I was working for the American and the British media. So they wanted to teach a lesson to people who worked for the American and the British media."
During his imprisonment, Bahari says he was beaten by his interrogator. Because he was either blindfolded or faced the wall during his interrogations, Bahari never saw anything. The only way he could feel his interrogator, Bahari says, was through the man's smell or his voice.
"He smelled of rosewater perfume," he says, "hence we called him Mr. Rosewater in the article."
Mr. Rosewater, Bahari says, beat him often, and once beat him while he was chatting on the phone with his wife about the dessert for the upcoming Ramadan holiday.
"To him, there was nothing strange about it," Bahari says. "He had to talk to his wife during work, and interrogation and torture was his job.
"So, a lot of people — accountants, dentists, government employees — they talk to their family while at work and for him, interrogation was his job."
At some points, as Mr. Rosewater was beating Bahari, he was talking to his wife about her mother. On another occasion, she was complaining about his not coming home for their wedding anniversary.
"And he said, 'Well, let's do it next week. This week, I'm going to finish this guy,' meaning that he's going to execute me," says Bahari. " 'And then next week we can celebrate together.' "
'Mr. Hillary Clinton'
During his time in prison, Bahari says he was oblivious of the attention his case was receiving in the West. There were appeals by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Newsweek magazine, as well as petitions calling for his release. His interrogator told Bahari that he was the only one who could save him. In September, however, he received some news.
"A prison guard called me Mr. Hillary Clinton, and when I asked him, 'Why are you calling me Mr. Hillary Clinton?' He said, 'Because Hillary Clinton talked about your case last night.' And that was the best day during my imprisonment."
Finally, after three months in an Iranian prison, Bahari was freed on Oct. 17. But it's what happened a week later, on Oct. 26, after he went to London, that he calls "the most wonderful event of my life" — his wife gave birth to their first child.
Bahari says he wants to use his release to highlight the plight of other journalists arrested by Iran for doing their job.
"There are at least 40 journalists in Iranian jails right now who are not fortunate enough, not privileged enough like me to have an international reputation and international colleagues to lobby on their behalf," he says. "But I use all my resources and all my connections to help them and just raise their case, because I think that we shouldn't let governments like the Iranian government and the Revolutionary Guards get away with it."