Q&A: Journalist Maziar Bahari reflects on four months in Iranian prison
"Everyone has forgotten you."Those were words Maziar Bahari heard every day from interrogatorsduring the four months he spent in solitary confinement in an Iranianprison.
CNN's Fareed Zakaria interviews Maziar Bahari, the Newsweek reporter who spent four months in an Iranian prison. He has written about it in this week's issue of Newsweek, and he has a harrowing, moving tale to tell.
"Everyone has forgotten you."
Those were words Maziar Bahari heard every day from interrogators during the four months he spent in solitary confinement in an Iranian prison. Maziar is my colleague — a fine journalist who works for Newsweek.
He is also an award-winning filmmaker. He was arrested, along with hundreds of others, during the protests that followed Iran's disputed election.
The end of his ordeal came in October, when he was released on bail of three billion rials, equal to 300,000 American dollars.
He flew back to his home in London, just days before his wife, Paola, gave birth to their first child, a girl.
ZAKARIA: So, take us back to the 21st of June in Iran.
BAHARI: Well, I was asleep. It was, I think, around 7:30, 7:45 in the morning. I was staying with my mother at that time. I was between apartments.
And my mother came in, came into the room. I was sleeping. And she said, "Dear, there are four people here. They say they are from the prosecutor's office," — she already had doubts of them — "and they want to take you away."
They took me away right away. There were five cars waiting outside. And then, we headed north from my mother's house. I asked them whether they were going to take me to Evin Prison. And they said, "Maybe we do, maybe we do not."
So, everything was uncertain from the beginning. But when we headed north, I realized that they were going to take me to Evin.
ZAKARIA: Now, Evin is the military prison. It's a place where there's been a lot of torture. There have been Western journalists who have died... under torture.
BAHARI: Many people. I was very scared. I mean, when I went to Evin, and I realized it was Evin, I remembered all the interviews I had done in the past with different people who were tortured in that prison. You know, I remembered all those interrogation stories, long hours of interrogation, solitary confinement — everything.
It was — I didn't know what to do.
ZAKARIA: And when you get there, they still don't charge you.
BAHARI: In the beginning, I was charged with masterminding the Western media in Iran. That was — that went on for about 10 days.
ZAKARIA: In fact, they said — I see in your article in Newsweek — they said, they accused you of working for the CIA, Mossad and Newsweek, as if they were all intelligence agencies. I assume they had no sense of humour about this. You had to be very serious.
BAHARI: I had to be very respectful. I had to be very deferential. And I had to be very serious.
ZAKARIA: But you were interrogated for hours and hours and hours. And at some level, you had nothing to say, because you were just doing your job as a journalist. So, what would you say to them?
BAHARI: I was just saying that I'm just a hack doing my job. I'm not a spy.
My interrogator told me that I was going to be executed, every day.
I mean, every time for about three months, he told me that, "One day at four o'clock in the morning, after the morning prayers, you wake up and you see the noose in front of you. And I make sure that I will be the person who will kick the chair off your feet, and then you will be hanging. And that's the end of you."
So, I was living with the threat of execution for almost three months.
ZAKARIA: And why do you think he was doing that? To scare you?
BAHARI: To put pressure on me.
ZAKARIA: And to force you to say something.
BAHARI: Exactly. He was trying to scare me. And he was trying to put me under a lot of psychological pressure in order for me to submit to what they wanted me to be.
I mean, I had physical torture, as well. But the psychological torture was much more effective.
ZAKARIA: What was the nature of the physical torture?
BAHARI: Kicking, punching, slapping, hitting with the belt.
Humiliation is the main thing that they do to you in Evin Prison, because they just want to humiliate you so much, that you just submit to whatever charges they are throwing at you.
What they wanted me to really do was to name different individuals and fabricate facts about them in order to make cases for them. And especially (if) they were reformists, (if) they were other journalists. And because they didn't have anything on them, they just wanted me to make up things in order to put them on trial or persecute them. I don't know what.
But that was the first thing I told myself, that I was not going to name individuals.
First of all, I didn't know any secrets of any individuals of importance. And then, I thought that, if I was going to fabricate facts about them, I could not live with myself. I mean, I'd rather die, you know.
ZAKARIA: So, Maziar, at the last phase of your imprisonment, about 20 days before you were released, something begins to seem to change, you said. Why do you think it changed?
BAHARI: It was mainly because of the international campaign for me, and because of the international pressure, but also because of the internal pressure.
As you know, most of my colleagues, including yourself and many others, they campaigned for me. And, I mean, it was a non-stop campaigning. I didn't know anything about it.
I didn't know anything about it until, actually, one day in September my guards, the prison guards — who were very nice people, actually, they were not part of the Revolutionary Guards, they were very professional — they started to call me Mr. Hillary Clinton.
And when I asked them, "Why do you call me Hillary Clinton," they said, "Because Hillary Clinton talked about you last night, and they showed it on Iranian television."
So, at that moment, I knew that, you know, there is some sort of campaigning — massive campaigning, actually — going on, because otherwise, the secretary of state of the United States would not talk about me.
So, it was maybe the best day in my imprisonment days.
ZAKARIA: One thing I wanted to get to, which I forgot. So, when you're in the prison, they start asking you about an episode on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
BAHARI: That was really absurd. As you know, I was on The Daily Show maybe a week before my arrest. And in that sketch, Jason Jones, the correspondent for The Daily Show, he pretends to be a spy. He pretends to be this redneck American who doesn't know anything about the Middle East. He had this Palestinian keffiyeh scarf with sunglasses.
And one day my interrogator told me that "We have really damning video against you." And I was just wondering what it is. They showed me this video. And I was just — I was going to ask them, what have you been smoking? It's just — it's unbelievable.
And I asked them, "I hope you don't believe that he is a real spy."
And then they said, "We're sure that there is something suspicious about him, because why is he pretending to be a spy? And why did he choose you to be on his program?"