Last Monday I made an appointment with the Longstanton detention centre, outside Cambridge, to see Arash Mohajeri-nejad. I was told I could not take any food, drink or any camera devices. I asked Arash what he wanted me to bring and he asked for a book to read and a CD with Iranian patriotic songs to keep up his spirit. I got him the CD he wanted and a hefty book on the history of Iran before Islam.
I don't know why, but on my way to the detention centre, I imagined the security guards to be something like the illiterate Homeland Security officers I have come across in Dulles airport, Washington. I kept repeating to myself on the way to Longstanton, 'I must not lose my cool and come to blows with them'. In fact I was very wrong, the guards at the detention centre are ever so polite and respectful, not just with me but with all the visitors and the detainees too. They asked me for a photo ID and my visit number at the gates, then a quick search before they drove me up this long drive in their vehicle. The detention centre was an old RAF barracks, and I think the visiting place must have been a part of the canteen before. I waited for Arash. All detainees wear a light coloured vest, so that they are distinguished from the visitors and not swap places and escape I suppose.
Arash looked tired but he managed a smile when he saw me, we shook hands and he thanked me for the book and the CD. I asked him how he was treated and he said he got on well with the guards and how kind and considerate they were in treating all the detainees. I spent the first 10 - 15 minutes on some friendly banter and some shared memories just to cheer him up first. When I thought the time was right I asked him about what had happened.
'You know I have been waiting for my asylum application for the last five years. The unreasonable reasons why the Home Office rejected my first application and how my lawyer messed up lodging my appeal in time and failed to submit all the evidence I had given him. Not having a status and being a non-entity for all these years was eating me up. They say one's twenties are the best years of one's life. For me it has been a living hell. I made a rash decision and decided to go along to the US embassy, I thought they would be more sympathetic if I applied for a visa there. After all, my brother is in US and I thought because of his high profile, they would know about him. I explained to the visa officer that I had been active against the Iranian regime before I fled Iran and that I have been active here in the UK too, but it all seemed to go in one ear and come out of the other, he just asked me what my legal status in UK was and I told him. Next he told me to wait while he sorted out some paper work. For a moment I thought this was the end of my hell. When he came back, they escorted me to a certain exit, and outside, the UK authorities were waiting for me and handcuffed me as they identified me with the photo they had.'
I listened with disbelief, and clenched my fists in rage. I had to ask him again 'So the US embassy shopped you to the UK authorities?'
'YES' He confirmed again.
'Are you 100% sure?' I asked him again.
'Potkin, when I came out of the embassy exit, the UK police were waiting outside with a faxed copy of my photo. It was the same photo I had given the US embassy for my application and I did not used that picture anywhere else' Arash told me with absolute confidence.
'Those stupid small minded no good bureaucrats, he probably didnt even know where Iran was' I said with utter disgust. I kind of imagined how Kavoussifar was handed over by the US embassy in Abu Dhabi to the Islamic Republic, only to be publicly hanged once he was back in the Islamic Republic.
'Sounds a bit like what happened to Kavoussifar in Abu Dhabi' I said to Arash.
'I promise you, if I am to be hanged, just like Kavoussifar, I will show no fear and smile just like Kavoussifar did with the rope round his neck'. This time, I think Arash was trying to raise my spirits.
'Arash, why on earth did you not discuss this with me?' I asked him holding my head in my hands.
'I thought in the worst scenario they would reject my application, not shop me to the UK authorities to arrest me and then deport me back to the mullahs. The US is against the mullahs Potkin, no?'
I shook my head and raised my eyebrows with disbelief. Arash is a great kid but obviously naive at times.
It has taken me a week to ponder whether I should write about this. I have asked for advise from those whose judgement I trust. My initial reluctance was because I thought this would demoralise further the Iranian Diaspora from getting involved in Iran related politics. I thought the message to them would be, you have the might of the Islamic Republic against you as well as that of America and UK, therefore you don't have a chance, just get on with your lives and don't get involved. This is in fact what we hear from those who don't get involved, they think they don't have a chance and the Americans and the UK want to maintain this regime. If I revealed the US embassy shopped Arash, it would confirm their suspicions.
At the end and after a week of much consultation, my English friend, Simon, convinced me with some powerful arguments which were as follows:
1 . What they did to Arash they may do to someone else. If these things are not publicly challenged then they dont get changed. Other dissidents in London or elsewhere may make the same mistake with the same consequences. Simply because they do not know what the embassy is likely to do because it is not publicised - the other case you talked about [Kavoussifar] was where somebody had killed a corrupt judge - they will think if they are a peaceful dissident and not involved in violence they wouldnt get the same treatment. Some may even be deported because of this misconception that the US is on their side. The least you should expect from the US embassy is that they do not call the authorities on them if they do not want to help them.
2. What the US embassy did seems to me this. Someone looks up something in a rule book and then follows it. That simple, that brutal. Now does Bush personally know what is in the rule book? Or McCain? (still less likely - I would have thought he would be very annoyed about this) Even Condoleeza Rice might not know - at least that's what she would say if publicly challenged. Do not make the mistake of thinking that because this is done the whole administration the whole political system the whole country is against you. This is negative thinking.
3. I don't see how it would really demoralise the opposition unless it is presented in a very negative way (blaming the whole country/administration etc). The whole world is not against you. Only people with vested interests, people on the regime's gravy train and jobsworth types at embassies and immigration departments and some hypocrite politicians. In reality a very few people who run like rabbits when they are exposed for what they are. That's all. You must stay positive.
So there you go! It was some small minded embassy bureaucrat who had no idea where Iran was or what was happening in Iran that looked up a rule book and shopped an Iranian pro-democracy activist to be deported back to the Islamic Republic! I can't be any more positive than that after a week!
"And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you. The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
George Bush State of the Union Address in 2005.
What bullshit and was there more to this speech that we did not hear, perhaps "When you stand for your own liberty, we will tell our embassies to deport you back to Iran"??
horrible! Should we start writing letters to the US authorities?
I will write to some Senators and Iran's desk at the State Dept. You'll also benefit from talking to Persian speaking media outlets that are willing to give us air time over this. Let me see what I can do.
As usual I can not convince the Iranian media to cover this. They think they may lose their occasional dinner invitations at the US embassy. Shahran Tabari of Radio Farda even told Gholamreza that Tony McNulty died more than a month ago! This is even more comical since she is a member of the Labour Party and is in the Kensington council!
You think if we had proper journalists and media we would be where we are now?!
Mr. Azarmehr what is your evidence that Kavoussifar was returned to Iran by the US embassy in Abu Dhabi?
Errm, the fact that it was announced on VOA (Persian) news!
Is that good enough for you?
Arash's plight demonstrates clearly that Iranian pro-democracy activists get no help from the West, yet they are often viewed by the Left as US lackeys. The US has landed the Iranian activists with a double whammy, No Help as well as the label of lackeys.
Whose side are we on?
Should people want to make complaints to the US State Department who are responsible for US embassies and their rule books one possible contact is this - I think it goes direct to Condoleeza Rice's office if it still works.
More general contact details for the State Department from their web site on this page:-
Contact details for US embassy in London
Oh BTW talking of gravy trains since Radio Farda are said to be one of the principle recipients of the fabled $75 million State Department slush fund which is supposedly for promoting democracy in Iran, it is no great surprise that they are not taking up a story the would be hugely embarassing to their benefactor.
You will not find no one better than the US State Dept. in helping their enemies and alienating their friends! They are the experts at that.
I would like to spread the word about this on a few dozen on-line forums, read by the kind of people who would get upset by this incident, and who might then email or write and complain.
But ... I think it will be more effective if there is just one "target" for the complaints.
So, who should it be? Rice? The American Embassy in the UK?
I wish I knew Doug. Not being an expert on US administration, I can not give you an educated answer.
My gut feeling would be Rice.
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