Iran: The Deadly Game

Opposition protesters at a rally in Tehran on the Shiite holiday of Ashura, December 27, 2009

It did not occur to me that I might not see my home again on the night of June 30, 2009, when I sat in the back seat of our car, between my shaky mother-in-law and nervous father, to go to the airport. My son, five, and daughter, three and a half, sat on my lap, and I lowered my head behind them to hide myself. For three days, over a dozen disheveled agents holding walkie-talkies had been monitoring the apartment building where we lived. I had even received a phone call from a sympathetic hard-line source, who warned me that I had been identified and would be shot by snipers if I continued going into the streets to cover the unrest.

Protests had rocked the country since June 12, after the opposition accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of falsifying the results of the Iranian elections. We had packed few clothes, thinking that we would be gone for only a few weeks. Unlike many others who had nowhere to escape and were arrested, I could travel to Canada, my second home, where I was fortunate to have citizenship.

This was not the first time we had come under surveillance. Our apartment had been monitored many times, even twenty-four hours a day by men in neatly ironed shirts who exchanged shifts in pairs at precise hours. They made it clear that they were watching me by parking their car in our driveway and taking notes every time they saw me. I had worked for The New York Times since the mid-1990s and the agents came when a well-known scholar or correspondent visited me.

But I took the signs more seriously this time. There had been up to sixteen men outside our apartment building. Several of them stood next to their motorcycles. At least four cars, with three men inside each, were parked on the street facing our apartment. I had noticed them first three days earlier when I was leaving to see a friend. The driver in a white Peugeot across the street looked me straight in the eye and said, “There she is,” as I was driving out of the garage. I headed back home ten minutes later when I realized that there was a whole team following me. I called a well-known lawyer; my driver quickly fetched papers for me to sign, so that he could represent me in case they arrested me.

Strangely, the surveillance team left at midnight every night. I felt relieved only at 6 AM on July 1, when our Austrian Airline flight took off for Vienna. I learned from neighbors that they took up their posts outside our apartment for another two days after I left. My friend Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek reporter, who was arrested…

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