Arrested Development – Gilan Province, Iran
In between Masouleh and Tehran lies Ramsar, a pretty town on the Caspian coast. It offers interesting sights, gorgeous buildings that seem to have lost their functions, hotels which once must have been glorious but are now a forgotten memory of the town’s glory days and water sports on the coast where men get on jet skis fully clothed (I’m talking jeans, shirt, etc) while their women sit and wait for their fun to end.
In Ramsar I meet a man who speaks English rather well and would like to have a talk. We go and grab some dinner together. He turns up the television in the small restaurant and glances back over his shoulder at the entrance and windows a lot. He seems quite paranoid but rather quickly informs me that he’s been arrested before. He’s not being paranoid he explains, they really were after him.
In 2009, during the Green Revolution that took place after the elections, he had taken photographs which he had uploaded to the internet. He had done this from an internet cafe where he had to show his ID to get access to a computer. This had allowed the government to track him down and arrest him. It took many months before they finally did though. When asked why it took them so long he answers that he travels around a lot. So why didn’t they just wait for him at his house? That, he explains, is not the way it works.
I had always imagined the arrests of dissidents to be a big dramatic show, something that would wake up the entire neighborhood while the dissidents would be dragged down the street by their hair. He explains that in reality, it is quite the opposite. Waiting at his house would mean other people would see him get arrested. And if other people saw him get arrested, they might just realize that they lived in a country where these kinds of things happen. Keeping the arrests quiet seems to be the preferred method of the secret police.
I told him that spending months on his arrest seemed an awful lot of trouble to go through for uploading just five photos and he explains that there were $100 rewards for any arrests related to the demonstrations. That is quite a bit of money for a country where the average salary is $500 a month.
It wasn’t the first time he got arrested though. The authorities had also caught him with DVDs of 24, the Fox television series. A friend bailed him out for $100, though it sounded more like it had been a bribe than an actual bail payment. When asked what he’s planning on doing next he says he’s not waiting around for any more demonstrations. He wants out. He’s heard good things about Romania. There was just one small problem, he was on probation and couldn’t leave the country. If he would get arrested again, he would be jailed for life. I wished him the best of luck. After dinner I decided to pick a new destination in this vast country. I was meeting so many would-be and had-been revolutionaries in this province it was time to move on.