Iranian Agents Track Dissidents Who Fled To Turkey

Many of Iran's political dissidents have fled to Turkey, since the disputed presidential election in June and subsequent government crackdown. While many bloggers say they can continue reporting on Iran's anti-government protests from Turkey, they say Iranian intelligence agents cross the border, and harass them even in exile.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, the political battle in Iran has spread beyond its borders. Dissidents have been fleeing the country rather than risk arrest. And the people who flee include journalists who made it to Iran's neighbor, Turkey. From there, they keep trying to report on Iran's anti-government protests. And they say Iranian intelligence agents harass them, even in exile.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Istanbul.

DEBORAH AMOS: For Iranian journalist Delbar Tavakoli, news from Tehran is all too familiar: death on the street recorded on cell phones, a mass crackdown following days of unrest. Now, Tavakoli follows the protest from Turkey.

Ms. DELBAR TAVAKOLI (Journalist): I'm sad the government killed the people, but I am happy because maybe they change the regime in Iran. It's good for the Iranian people.

AMOS: In June, Tavakoli covered the demonstrations in Tehran after the disputed elections. But the event that forced her to flee: the 90-second cell phone video of the shooting death of 26-year-old Neda Soltan. She would become an international symbol of the protest.

Soon after the shooting, Tavakoli got a call from a friend.

Ms. TAVAKOLI: (Through Translator) His voice was so upset. He said the girl who's killed and shown on CNN last night was Neda Soltan.

AMOS: The caller was Caspian Makan, Neda Soltan's boyfriend. Tavakoli put him in touch with international media outlets. His interviews added crucial details about Neda's life and her death.

Iranian authorities denied any involvement in the shooting. They quickly arrested Makan, and accused Tavakoli of being part of a foreign plot to kill Neda Soltan. She was sure she'd face a show trial on trumped-up charges.

Ms. TAVAKOLI: (Through Translator) I had a choice to stay there, confess, and accept the charge of murder regarding Neda.

AMOS: Tavakoli decided to join the growing community of Iranian exiles in Turkey. Iranians don't need visas to cross the long border with Iran. There are thousands of Iranians here now, not all of them politically active.

(Soundbite of music)

AMOS: These worshippers are also refugees - Christian converts, evangelicals, practicing for a holiday service. Most of the Iranians at this church are young, from Muslim families, recent Christians who would face serious reprisals for their beliefs back home, says this 30-year-old man who gives his name as Evan.

EVAN: (Through Translator) The person who converts is considered an apostate and could be executed. Praise God that I can practice my belief here.

AMOS: But the latest arrivals are running from a different kind of reprisal. More than 2,000 have come since June, according to the U.N. Refugee office in Turkey. Many are journalists, photographers and bloggers. They resume writing for dissident Web sites as soon as they arrive.

Delbar Tavakoli says she's been reporting on the rape of some protesters while in a Tehran prison, a story Iranian authorities have tried to suppress. She believes this is why Iranian intelligence agents have threatened her in Turkey and tried to frighten her family in Tehran.

Ms. TAVAKOLI: (Through Translator) The Iranian intelligence called my mother and said, do not think we're going to let your daughter leave Turkey.

AMOS: The fear is real for Iranian dissidents. The Turkish government requires them to live away from the capital and the coast in small, rural towns while they wait for approval of their refugee status. But they say these places make them easy targets for Iran's agents.

We reached some of them by cell phone. Hossein Salmanzadeh is a photojournalist.

Mr. HOSSEIN SALMANZADEH (Photojournalist): (Through Translator) There are four intelligence agents who came to this city. We don't feel safe here.

AMOS: Another dissident, Farahmand Ali Pour, covered the campaign of one the failed presidential candidates in the June elections before he left for Turkey. He still writes for the Web site of the opposition movement. He says intelligence agents are tracking many Iranian journalists in exile.

Mr. FARAHMAND ALI POUR (Iranian Journalist): (Through Translator) These events show that the journalists were using the Internet and all those communications. Their work was successful.

AMOS: Work they continue from afar in a movement that uses modern technology against a regime that uses state power to repress their ideas.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Istanbul.

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