'Every knock on the door would send me into a panic as I waited'

First Person: Sabina Amidi, who has been reporting for The Jerusalem Post from Iran, is safely out now, and tells her harrowing story.

By SABINA AMIDI, SPECIAL TO THE JERUSALEM POST
June 19, 2009 00:29
3 minute read.
'Every knock on the door would send me into a panic as I waited'

Mousavi at demo 248.88. (photo credit: AP Photo/Ghalam News)

After reporting for The Jerusalem Post in secret for the past few weeks, I have left the indescribable chaos now gripping the Islamic Republic of Iran. Gaiety and optimism have turned to anarchy in Teheran, and I no longer felt safe. The day I arrived in Teheran could not have felt more normal. Walking out of the airport, I saw my family waiting for me near the entrance with a bouquet of flowers and a car to take us to my grandmother's house. After a few comfortable hours with my relatives following a traditional Persian breakfast of tea, fresh bread and cheese from the corner bakery, I immediately hit the streets. I saw a Teheran that was bursting with excitement and, dare I say, "liberties" that were reminiscent of the city's former self. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's suffocating four-year presidency seemed like it might soon become a memory. Men and women of all ages flocked to the streets en mass to show their support for reformist presidential hopeful Mir Hossein Mousavi. At these informal rallies, youngsters handing out the now-famous green ribbons openly flirted with members of the opposite sex. By night, the parade of Mousavi supporters transformed boulevards into live concerts. As Persian pop music echoed down avenues, men and women danced carefree, celebrating their "predestined victory" over the incumbent president until the small hours. For the first time in 30 years of Islamification, Teheran had gotten its groove back. I stayed close to the excited"green" demonstrators on many occasions. To my surprise and relief, the Basiji paramilitary troops did not disturb us; there was not a single person arrested or harmed on those pre-election nights. Before they "got the party started," the hungry campaigners would eat at a hip café to watch the live presidential debates. The parking lots were filled with cars decorated like a newlyweds' - with green balloons, green flowers, green paint, and Mousavi's face plastered all over the vehicles. It was like New Year's Eve - minus the champagne, of course. And then came Election Day, June 11. Tensions grew strong on June 12, as Teheran held its breath for the final results. A group of student volunteers sent telephone text messages that spoke of rumors of "foul play." I was outside a fruit market when the election results were broadcast on the radio, and I saw at least 20 people truly stop in their tracks to listen. I waved down a cab. Sitting in the back of the broken-down Paykan (an Iranian-made car), I saw a small picture of Ahmadinejad on the dashboard. "So, he won?" I asked the driver. Looking in his mirror, he nodded. I debated whether I should get out of the country right away, even though I had not participated in the "riots." I had actually witnessed a plainclothes official slap down a young woman who was standing a meter in front of me. All I could do was watch; I have never felt so helpless. The woman's screams will stay with me. After the results came the mayhem. At one point, as I stood on my grandmother's roof, I could see smoke in the distance and people banging desperately on strangers' doors to let them in. We locked ourselves away. In the distance we could hear "Death to Khameini" and "Death to Ahmadinejad" until the chanting grew so loud that the windows shook. That first night we had no dinner. We did not dare leave the house. When I did venture out for a few hours, the streets were littered with broken glass and ash. I walked past a group of young men who referred to themselves as the "green children." They used walkie-talkies to communicate with their counterparts. The riot police and Basiji were standing on every corner. A protester prepared for them, carrying a canteen of vinegar and a handful of masks. "If we dip the masks in vinegar, the [pepper] spray will not burn our eyes," he said, pointing to the men sitting on their motorcycles. The growing violence and government crackdowns inspired my abrupt departure from Iran in mid-week. My reporting for the Post - as honest and professional as I knew how to make it - nevertheless meant I had a direct connection with Israel that was unheard-of in Teheran, and dangerous. I was putting myself at risk by prolonging my stay. During my last two days in Teheran, every knock on the door sent me into a panic, as I thought, "This is it. I have been caught." If I had been captured as an "Israeli spy," Ahmadinejad might have had an excuse to depict the riots into a Zionist plot. I needed to get out.•


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