Iranian blogger tells of escape from Tehran

ISLAMABAD - When Iran sought to hide its crackdown on people protesting the allegedly rigged presidential election of June 12, young Hamid Raza Khoshnya used his weblog to keep the world enlightened about the regime’s brutality.

But the over-vigilant secret agents of the Islamic republic lost little time in tracing his “internet mischief”. When they came knocking at his door, Khoshnya, 23, had little option but to flee.

Staying in Tehran while there was a complete lack of tolerance for dissent was too dangerous and would certainly have meant prison, or even death. But escaping was not easy for someone who wanted “change” in his country.

“I remained in hiding in the cellar of a friend’s house in a suburb of Tehran for 25 days until arrangements were made for my escape to Pakistan,” Khoshnya said in an interview in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

After paying $3,000 to people smugglers, Khoshnya travelled in a container to the south-eastern Iranian province of Balochistan-Sistan. From there a motorcycle rider took him across muddy, bumpy terrain to the Pakistani border village of Mandelo.

“Sitting on the pillion seat of a Honda 125 motorbike, I was trembling,” said Khoshnya, who is now staying with an Iranian refugee family in Islamabad.

“I hid myself behind the driver, praying to God that I would pass this area safely as quickly as possible. You know Iranian or Pakistani border guards could shoot us had they spotted us.”

Raised in an upper middle class, well-educated family, Khoshnya was early this year expelled from university for organising anti-government activities at the campus, making him even more determined to join dozens of reformist bloggers.

Amid a ban on foreign media from reporting, photographing or taking videos of the opposition’s protests against what they call “fraudulent” elections, he shared the details of the happenings on his Persian-language weblog “The Wretched” — named for the 19th century French novelist Victor Hugo.

He also sent texts, pictures and videos to CNN, BBC Persian Service and VOA through e-mails, including the one on “Bloody Saturday” when Iranian law enforcers shot dead several demonstrators in Tehran.

It happened a day after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei warned the protesters June 19 to stop agitating and condemning the outcome of the poll that saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to power.

“We were around 500 people in Amirabad Street when police came from all sides and unleashed terror,” Khoshnya said.

“They first baton-charged and tear-gassed people and then opened fire at the unarmed protesters. Thirty people died there and many more were injured.”

Khoshnya still remembers how Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who later become a symbol of the opposition cause in Iran, was hit by a bullet and slumped to the ground. He immediately snapped a picture of her with face and head smeared in blood, a picture which is posted on his blog, which he co-edits with his friend Pisar Ironi, an Iranian refugee living in Denmark.

“Those animals also beat me up with batons and broke my leg when I tried to save my one female relative. But thank God I did not lose my cell-phone where I had the pictures,” said Khoshnya as he pulled up his shirt to show the scars on his back, still fresh after 40 days.

With the bloggers and twitters partly circumventing the restrictions imposed on international media, Iranian authorities have intensified their campaign to trace the oppositional voices back to their computers.

Some of the 34 media workers detained after the election are bloggers, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Many others have gone underground, waiting for an opportunity to flee to a neighbouring country.

Feeling relatively safe with a trusted family in Islamabad, the young reformist still posts reports and pictures shared by his dozens of friends from Iran, with the conviction that change is imminent.

“I have great hope in our resistance,” said Khoshnya. “The Iranian people have tolerated with complete silence the repression, brutality, exploitation in the name of religion for 30 years. But now they say ‘enough is enough’.”

“They have woken up now and you will see, in a maximum of two years, that the present regime will experience the same fate as that of (late Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein.”


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