118 Days In An Iranian Prison Newsweek reporter and documentary filmmaker Maziar Bahari was accused of being a foreign spy after the disputed presidential elections in Iran.
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118 Days In An Iranian Prison

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118 Days In An Iranian Prison

118 Days In An Iranian Prison

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Not long ago, here on WEEKEND EDITION, we ran an essay I did about a friend, the Newsweek correspondent and documentary filmmaker Maziar Bahari. Bahari is a Canadian-Iranian who was arrested in Iran in June after the disputed presidential elections and protests that ensued. He's 42 years old. He was released from prison in Tehran on October the 17th.

This past week, Newsweek ran his personal story "118 Days in Hell" - the number of days he was held. He joins us from our New York studio. And, Maziar Bahari, if I might say it, I'm really, really glad you're here.

Mr. MAZIAR BAHARI (Newsweek Correspondent, Documentary Filmmaker): It's very nice to be here.

LYDEN: Take us back a little bit. You were arrested while sleeping in your mother's apartment in Tehran on that day and taken to the notorious Evin Prison and accused of being a foreign intelligence agent. For people who might not be familiar with your story, would you please tell us why you?

Mr. BAHARI: I was one of many people who was arrested. And the reason for my arrest - I was never told actually, I have to tell you that. I was never told why I was arrested exactly. 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.

LYDEN: Tell us more about the man you call - and it would be cartoonish if it weren't so brutal and awful - Mr. Rosewater, your interrogator. First of all, why did you call him that?

Mr. BAHARI: On the 21st of June, when I was arrested at my mother's house, it was around 7:45 in the morning. I could smell the people who were in the apartment before seeing them, and they smelled of rosewater and sweat. This is a very particular smell for Iranian officials because many of them, even though they do their ablutions three times a day before prayers, they don't take shower enough. So they want to compensate using rosewater perfume.

So, anyways, they came to my room. They arrested me. And after they took me to Evin Prison, I was blindfolded, or I was always faced the wall when I was interrogated, so I could not see anything. And the only way I could somehow see my - or feel my interrogator was through smell and his voice. And he smelled of rosewater perfume.

LYDEN: Maziar, the hardest part for me to read in this account you've written is that this man, Mr. Rosewater, once that you - while he was actually chatting on the phone with his wife, asking her about how sweet was the dessert for the upcoming Ramadan holiday while he's slamming you. And it's just a portrait of such banal cruelty that it's astonishing.

Mr. BAHARI: To him, there was nothing strange about it. He had to talk to his wife during work, you know. And interrogation and torture was his job. So, a lot of people, you know, accountants, dentists, government employees, they talk to their family while at work and for him interrogation was his job. So at some point he was beating me and then he was talking to his wife about - I think about her mother. I think her mother had health problems.

And also there was another time that she was complaining about their wedding anniversary, that he could not come home for their wedding anniversary. And he said, well, let's do it next week because this week I'm going to finish this guy - meaning that he's going to execute me - and then next week we can celebrate together.

LYDEN: Did you take his threat seriously?

Mr. BAHARI: Well, I was threatened with execution for almost three months. And after a while I just felt that, well, if they want to do it, you know, I shouldn't worry about it. And I thought, you know, that might be my destiny.

LYDEN: We're talking with documentary filmmaker and Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari. Did you have any sense while you were in prison of how strongly the outside world was reacting? Secretary of State´┐Ż

Mr. BAHARI: I had, yeah, I had almost no idea because what the, I mean, what my interrogator was telling me was that no one cares about you, you're here all by yourself and I'm the only one who can help you. Until a day, I think it was in September, when 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.

LYDEN: It surprised me going through this this summer thinking about the nature of journalism, people would sometimes say he's a journalist, he knew the risks. What's your reaction to that statement?

Mr. BAHARI: Well, I don't think that any journalist should be subjected to imprisonment arrests or torture. I mean, I was a journalist, I was doing my job, there were some demonstrations on the streets, there were some shootings and I just reported that. And that was, I mean, that was enough for the Iranian government and the revolutionary guards to arrest me.

I think that people who say things like that, they don't know anything about journalism. And the same kind of people, they, many of them, they think that the journalists are just greedy bunch who think about themselves and don't care about anyone. I think my case and the international campaign for my release showed that there is a solidarity among journalists. And when one of us is in trouble, all of us are mobilized to help him.

And now that I'm privileged enough to be able to talk to you and other media organizations, I'd like to raise the case of my colleagues in Iran who are still in jail. There are at least 40 journalists in Iranian jails right now who are not fortunate enough or not privileged enough like me to have an international reputation and international colleagues to lobby on their behalves.

But I used 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 to get away with it. That, you know, you can't just arrest people, subject them to torture and then just shut them up by threatening them and tell them that you should not talk about your experiences.

LYDEN: There is a dramatic transition not ending in your story. You arrived home in time for one of the most wonderful events of your life.

Mr. BAHARI: Yes, I was released on the 17th of October. I went to London on the 20th and on the 26th of October my first child was born. And that was the most wonderful moment of my life.

LYDEN: Well, Newsweek correspondent and documentary filmmaker Maziar Bahari, I'm so very, very glad you're back.

Mr. BAHARI: It was very nice to talk to you, Jacki.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: And you can listen to my full interview with Maziar Bahari on our Web site NPR.org.

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