Guardian | June 13, 2010
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
One year ago, after a disputed election, a popular uprising almost brought down the Iranian regime. Saeed Kamali Dehghan risked his life to report on the green revolt – but then he made the agonising decision to flee to the UKOne year ago, after a disputed election, a popular uprising almost brought down the Iranian regime. Saeed Kamali Dehghan risked his life to report on the green revolt – but then he made the agonising decision to flee to the UK
A gloomy Saturday morning. I was sitting on a bench in the departure lounge of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport waiting for my boarding call when the public address blasted into life: “Flight number 747 Tehran to London is delayed. All passengers should wait in the lounge for further announcements.”
The sense of panic descended, my stomach began to churn. “They’re coming for me,” I thought. There was nowhere to hide. I couldn’t go back through immigration control. I had to wait. I had no way of destroying the 15 videotapes I had put in my suitcase, already packed into the belly of the plane, the result of an intense month’s work. Those films of my secret interviews in Iran could ruin my future if they were discovered.
Was that silent phone call I had received in the middle of the night not accidental after all? Was it more sinister? Were they looking for me? This is the way in which many opposition figures, and especially journalists, have been arrested since the election – here in this very airport lounge, or even on the plane just before take-off.
I found myself going in and out of the toilet every 10 minutes. Whenever anyone new entered the lounge, I had a sharp shiver of fear, like salt on a wound – “he’s the officer, he’s the one coming for me”. I tried to hide my face from people coming into the room, fearing that they were looking for me.
Only a month before, I had left my partner in London and returned to my home country, to Tehran, to find and film the family of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan for the first time. She had become the symbol of Iran’s struggle for democracy after she was shot dead on the streets by militiamen. Her final moments were captured on jerky mobile phone footage in the aftermath of the country’s “stolen” election last June. Within hours, the grisly images showing blood seeping out of her mouth became the defining moment in the uprising against the Iranian regime – and a rallying point for a protest movement in need of a hero.