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Ditching Zarif: The Dramatic Story of the Iranian Reporter Who Defected

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Amir Tohid Fazel (Photo: Video screenshot)
Amir Tohid Fazel (Photo: Video screenshot)

An Iranian journalist who accompanied Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during his European tour late last month defected and sought political asylum in Sweden.

Amir Tohid Fazel, a state news journalist and political editor of Moj News Agency, was the reporter who first published a list of dual nationals in the Iranian government — an issue that raised the ire of Zarif as well as his boss, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Fazel’s list contained “very prominent members” of the Iranian government who hold dual citizenship or permanent residency in countries that the regime considers an enemies — the U.S., England and Canada.”

In an interview with Swedish national broadcaster SVT, Fazel said he was seeking asylum after a colleague from Tehran warned him that four Iranian plainclothes agents had visited his office with an arrest warrant.

Fazel then describes his dramatic escape:

“On Wednesday morning, August 30th, I was able to deceive the Zarif’s team of correspondents and runaway. In addition to the 48 secret agents who were focused on our activities, there were Iranian secret agents all around the city –for example, on either side of the hotel and near the shops around the hotel. It was very difficult to escape this security ring.

“In Sweden, due to the popular protests against Zarif’s visit, the atmosphere was better. On Wednesday morning, we went to have breakfast. At one point, I heard a security officer tell his colleague to take all the reporters in a van to the lecture room where Zarif had an interview and from there to the embassy, and finally take them straight to the airport.

“I had handed over my luggage then begged them to let me have a smoke. Every time I wanted to smoke, they asked me, ‘What are you doing? Why do you smoke many times?’

“Still, I asked them to let me smoke a cigarette behind the van. They just stared at me. But the moment I got behind the van, I started running and didn’t look behind me.

“I was so scared, every moment I felt like someone was behind me. They were constantly calling me on my cellphone with the SIM card that the embassy had given me.

“I stopped for a moment and took the SIM card out of my cellphone and threw it away and continued running. I got a taxi and begged him to take me to the police station, where I applied for asylum.”

Since his escape, Fazel’s wife has been dismissed from her job and his child has experienced difficulties registering for school, he said.

“It has been very difficult on my family,” he said.

Later, Maryam Salari, an Iranian a diplomatic correspondent who also accompanied Zarif on the tour, tweeted about Fazel and his for political asylum and the presence of Iranian opposition members in Sweden, saying:

“The scattered presence of a number of MEK [Iranian opposition] members at the scene in Sweden was of great concern to the embassy team members. [The MEK members] were constantly urging reporters to travel inside the city.”

It is worth noting that in his visits to Scandinavia and France, Zarif was attempting to loosen the noose around the neck of the Iranian regime.

As seen in each and every stop he made, supporters of the Iranian opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) held rallies in FinlandSwedenNorway and France protesting his visit and denouncing him as a terrorist.

Iran ranks 170th in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index, making it one of the worst countries for press freedom.

The same week, Iranian judoka and former world champion Saeid Mollaei, defected and is seeking asylum in Germany.

 

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Hassan Mahmoud

Hassan Mahmoudi is a human rights advocate specializing in political and economic issues relating to Iran and the Middle East. @hassan_mahmou1