WINNIPEG – Caspian Makan, whose fiancée, Neda Agha- Soltan, was shot in cold
blood on the streets of Tehran in the post-election protests of 2009, fled Iran
through the mountains, partly on foot, after being jailed, tortured and finally
released on bail.
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Neda became a global symbol of the Iranian people’s
quest for freedom. Makan, meanwhile, has been watching this year’s protests in
Iran from his home in Canada, where he was granted political
Neda’ s death on June 20, 2009, caught the attention of the world
because her murder by Iranian police during protests after Iran’s fraudulent
elections was caught on a cell phone video and broadcast throughout the
Makan produced a video as a tribute to Neda, releasing it on what
would have been her 28th birthday on January 23, as a way for the world to
remember her and her message.
Makan, who was jailed six days after Neda’s
death in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, believes that there will
“absolutely” be more protests against Ahmadinejad’s regime.
in-depth interview, conducted with the help of a Persian interpreter, Makan told
the dramatic story of his imprisonment and escape from Iran and explained what
he believes can be done to hasten the Iranian regime’s demise.
living in Iran, Makan worked, from 1995, as an “independent writer,
filmmaker, professional photographer and journalist,” who “specialized
in history and nature.” He worked both in Iran and various other
Makan remembers well what befell him six days after Neda’s
death, on June 26, 2009.
“I was arrested in my home while I was getting
ready to go to Neda’s family’s home. My house, which was in Tehran, was
surrounded by security forces and I was arrested and taken to the Evin Prison,
where political prisoners are taken.
“I was also politically and socially
active,” he says. “My activities included giving speeches, writing articles,
taking pictures and making movies which sometimes resulted in my arrest and
short-term incarceration. I had official memberships in various writers
associations and photography associations, but I was never a member of any
[political] group or organization and was always independent.”
Neda’s burial, which took place 20 hours after her death, Makan “remained quiet
and awaited the response of the regime,” but when there “was no logical reaction
or response from them, and no satisfying answers, I started doing interviews
against the Islamic regime.”
According to Makan, immediately after Neda’s
death the regime forces threatened Neda’s family.
“The regime told Neda’s
family they should not do any interviews about Neda’s death and could not give
any opinions, because the regime wanted to write up a different and false
scenario for Neda’s death. But by exposing the regime and giving interviews
about how Neda was really killed, I did not allow the regime to be successful in
their plans to hide the cause of Neda’s death.”
Makan says he first spoke
about Neda being killed by “Islamic regime agents,” but then “I expanded [the
scope] of my interviews to discuss the oppression of the Iranian people by the
Islamic regime and the brutality of the regime, without censoring myself in any
way. I also spoke against Mr. Khamenei and Mr. Ahmadinejad in regimesponsored
Makan says he really wanted to let the people of the world know
about the brutality of the regime and believes he succeeded, because while he
was being tortured in prison, “they would tell me that the damage I had caused
to the regime was irreparable.”
According to Makan, from the first day
after Neda’s death up until his arrest, the “regime agents started asking many
questions about my relationship with Neda.”
Although Makan had been
arrested, a medical student, Arash Hejazi, who had been present at the scene of
Neda’s death and had tried to save her, “continued to expose what had happened
to Neda and how the regime was responsible for her death.”
that the regime tried to mislead and confuse people by suggesting that he and
Neda had previously known Hejazi, which “was not the case.” Hejazi escaped to
Additionally, he said Neda’s music teacher, Hamid Panahi, who is
now in Tehran and was the main witness to her assassination, was also arrested
and jailed for “about a week.”
On being arrested, Makan faced a number of
charges, including working to overthrow the regime and damaging its reputation
irreparably. The regime’s agents said that they had four reasons to execute
“Firstly, I had conducted various interviews with international
media against the Islamic regime and in support of the freedomloving people of
Iran. Secondly I had exposed... [that] Neda had had been killed by regime
“Thirdly, as a journalist… and responsible Iranian, I felt like I
had to expose what… the regime was doing to the people. When they
arrested me, they discovered and confiscated numerous notes and pictures about
the murders and oppression by the Islamic regime… After my arrest, they found
certain writings and pictures belonging to me which made it clear that I was
opposed to the Islamic regime.
“Lastly, in various interviews with
regime-owned media, I condemned the behavior of the heads of regime, including
Mr. Khamenei and Mr. Ahmadinejad,” he says.
Another reason that
Makan’s life was in danger was because, although he was born a Muslim, at age 30
he chose to become a Zoroastrian.
“According to Islamic law, changing
one’s religion from Islam is punishable by death. The regime had
documentation to that effect that I had changed my religion,” Makan
He adds that that after Neda’s death, he no longer believes in any
While in prison, Makan was in solitary confinement, where he
was “subjected to psychological torture, and thinking about it today is very
difficult for me.”
Makan says that the Iranian regime wanted to convince
him that Neda had been murdered by an exiled opposition group, the Mojahedine
Khalq, rather than by the regime, and they promised to release him if he
accepted this premise.
The regime wanted him “to say that Neda had been
killed by the leaders of the green opposition,” and in return “they promised to
give back everything they had confiscated” from him.
“They knew that the
things they had confiscated from me were extremely precious… including my films
and books I had written and many pictures I had taken
But he refused their offer.
During his 65-day
imprisonment, Makan believes the Iranian regime wanted to execute him, “but they
realized that my death would expose their atrocities even more.
seemed confused, for example, when on two occasions individuals from the
[Iranian] parliament came to see the situation of prisoners who had been
arrested after the recent protests. They kept me hidden so that the parliament
members would not become aware of my presence.
“The news about my arrest
and detention was not circulated, because the regime severely threatened my
family and my lawyer that if any information about my arrest was leaked [they
said] that I would be executed immediately.”
According to Makan, when
they didn’t hear from him, Neda’s family thought Makan had gone to Canada,
because around that time he was to have traveled to Canada for two gallery
showings of his work.
“Once they [Neda’s family] realized I had been
arrested, they also put a lot of pressure on Islamic regime officials to release
“Right after my arrest, I called a journalist colleague and told her
about my arrest, and she informed many international human rights groups,
including Amnesty International... After Amnesty published a news report about
my arrest, I was immediately released on bail. I was forced to undertake not to
be involved in any political activity, not to leave the country and to wait for
my trial and ultimate sentence.”
On being released, Makan says on one
hand he “wanted to be dead, because I couldn’t imagine living in this world
without Neda,” and yet on the other hand “I couldn’t believe that I was alive
and I knew I wanted to continue in Neda’s path.”
Makan escaped Iran about
two months after his release on bail. As he recalls, “Regime agents were
everywhere and they were listening to all my phone calls, and I was being
followed at all times. Nobody, even my closest friends, could communicate with
me because of this situation. I was not able to accomplish anything, and most
importantly I was not able to fight against this Islamic dictatorship
“Worst of all, I had become aware that, once again, regime agents
were going to arrest me, and this time they were determined to put enough
pressure on me to force me to say that Neda had been killed with the order of
[reformist leaders] Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi.”
that neither he nor Neda voted in the Iranian elections in June 2009, and he
“did not and does not today support reformist leaders Mousavi and
But he refused to agree with regime agents to say Neda had been
killed on order of either of these men, as doing so still could have hurt the
protest movement of the Iranian people.
“That’s when I decided to leave
Iran illegally through the mountains and enter Turkey illegally,” he
After a five-day journey he arrived in Ankara, and after one month,
he boarded a plane to Canada, which granted him asylum.
Makan does not
want to give specifics of the route he took to escape, so that others in the
future may also use it, but at one point it involved “walking on foot at night
in the mountains for more than eight-and-a-half hours.”
Makan says before
Neda’s death, he and Neda had planned to come to Canada for exhibits of Makan’s
artistic works, “and Canada was a country we were considering to move to and
live in for the rest of our lives.”
Although he is not a member of any
group, as he wants to keep his independence, Makan supports “all groups that are
against the Islamic regime” in Iran, and calls for complete regime
“I support a full overthrow of the Islamic regime, both the
hard-liner and reformist factions of it. About 10 percent of the Iranian
population lives outside of Iran, and almost 100% of Iranians have suffered at
the hands of the regime. People have suffered economically, socially,
politically, and so on...
“At least 1% of the Iranian population has been
killed at the hands of this Islamic regime in one way or another… How can we
logically expect or accept reform of this regime?” In his view, Iranians “have
passed that stage” of being interested in reforming the regime.
majority of Iranians today know their rights and they know that they themselves
have to replace the oppression and dictatorship in Iran. They are coming into
the streets and chant for freedom and justice and have hope that they will be
successful,” he says.
Makan believes that one of the most important ways
to hasten the Iranian regime’s end is to find ways to break through the
censorship Iran imposes on its people to prevent them from knowing about the
ongoing human rights abuses and atrocities.
“We live in the 21st century
with advanced technology such as satellite and Internet, and the international
community could provide these things to the Iranian people in order to stop the
censorship that is currently present in Iran,” he explains.
need to know exactly what is going on behind the scenes in the Islamic regime
and be aware of atrocities committed by the regime against the
The West also needs to stop making business deals with the
regime, at least temporarily, in order to cripple the regime and prevent it from
carrying out its functions. They can also cut all diplomatic relations with the
regime,” he says.
“I don’t think the fall of the regime is very far. I
think by the time Ahmadinejad’s presidency is over, with the bravery of the
Iranian people, the regime will fall,” he adds.
Regarding US President
Obama’s actions vis-à-vis Iran, Makan says, “President Barack Hussein Obama has
not taken a strong stand against the [Iranian] regime… He should realize that
holding dialogue with a murderous regime will not benefit his government or
country, because the regime has come to the end of the road. Hopefully Obama and
other government officials will support the [Iranian] people rather than the
In comparing the recent upheaval in Egypt to the situation in
Iran, Makan says, “The current revolution in Egypt is similar to the Iranian
revolution of 1979 but not to the current movement in Iran, which is very
different from the revolution in Egypt.
“It’s true that the people of
Tunisia and Egypt quickly reached their demand of overthrowing the government.
Of course, we have to watch and see whether the future governments of these
countries will truly be democratic or will become Islamic governments,” he
“Unfortunately the Islamic regime in Iran is very different
from other governments. This government easily kills its own citizens, tortures,
rapes and imprisons them, and this is a difficulty faced by the Iranian people;
this is why they require support as well as unity among groups and
He believes that the people of Iran, like the people of
any other country, must decide “their own future.”
He says that “no other
country has the right to get involved,” but “every country has the
responsibility to support Iranians demand for freedom.”
Israel in March, meeting President Shimon Peres and other
“Israel is a big enemy for the [Iranian] Islamic regime, an
enemy they use to further their own agenda, including spreading Islam and
Islamic governments in the Middle East.
“With my visit to Israel, I
wanted to show the people of Iran that Israel does not have any animosity toward
the Iranian people, and the only animosity that exists comes from the Islamic
Makan says “Iranians themselves do not want war… with Israel. I
went to Israel to show these realities and show the world that Iranians are
peaceful people… The ideas of war and terrorism do not belong to the Iranian
people but to the Islamic regime.”
Makan hopes that Iran’s future
government will be secular and democratic.
“This will be the greatest
victory for the people of Iran. It will be a long and difficult path, but with
the help of thousands of Nedas, we will get there.”The writer is the
editor of an epaper, the Winnipeg Jewish Review;