Eric Randolph was a correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Tehran, Iran, from 2016 to 2019, and is working on a book about his experiences there. He is currently the AFP’s deputy bureau chief in Istanbul, Turkey. (February 2020)
A couple of venues in Europe had offered Ali gigs, but he still could not get a visa. Visas were easy to obtain for the offspring of corrupt officials and Revolutionary Guard officers, not for oddball artists. He brushed it off, with the bleak resignation that I found among many artists and bohemian types in Iran. Of all segments of society, the middle classes had been perhaps the most cowed and crushed by the repression that followed the Green Movement mass protests in 2009. These days, they tended to stay out of the protests—the recent conflagrations have tended to be led by poorer, more desperate segments. The middle classes had learned that hope could be dangerous in the Islamic Republic. Better to make a friend of despair.
Kian Tajbakhsh wanted to own his punishment—to see himself as part of a struggle, alongside millions of other Iranians, that may have been fruitless but had been worth fighting for. His interrogators had been coaching him for his appearance at the trial, but when he took the stand, Kian diverted from the script in a small but crucial way. He told the judge his real crime had not been treason, but the naivety to believe that the Islamic Republic could ever be compatible with Western-style democracy.