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IRAN: A distress signal via Facebook

March 30, 2008 | 12:01 am

Amid the notifications prodding me to become a vampire or a zombie and one-line shout-outs from friends around the world, the plea for help on the social networking website Facebook stood out starkly.

The message, written in all capitals to underscore its urgency, came from Pooya Dayanim, an Iranian American living in the Los Angeles area:

EbrahimiTURKISH AUTHORITIES HAVE ARRESTED AMIR-FARSHAD EBRAHIMI, A PROMINENT GERMAN-BASED IRANIAN JOURNALIST ON CHARGES THAT HE COLLABORATED WITH THE FBI IN THE FLIGHT OF A PROMINENT IRANIAN OFFICIAL LAST YEAR. TURKISH AUTHORITIES HAVE ADVISED MR. EBRAHIMI THAT IN ORDER TO AVOID ANOTHER SIMILAR INCIDENT THEY ARE DEPORTING HIM IN THE NEXT FEW HOURS BACK TO IRAN WHERE HE WILL SURELY BE TORTURED AND EXECUTED.

Held for nearly 18 hours at Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Iranian blogger and dissident Ebrahimi was ultimately allowed to leave Turkey for Germany, as I describe in today's story.

But it took a lot of work to make sure he wasn't sent to Iran, Dayanim said in a conversation afterward.

Dayanim said he went into action after he recieved a distressed call from Ebrahimi, who was terrified that he was about to be deported back to Iran, as demanded by Iranian officials.

"Once I heard, I sent out e-mails, telephone calls, Facebook, whatever it took," he said.

President of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee, Dayanim is a political activist who has been helping dissidents inside and outside Iran for a decade. He e-mailed contacts at the State Deptartment, the National Security Council and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

He put Ebrahimi on a conference call with Henri Wooster, the Farsi-speaking head of the State Department's Iran Affairs desk "so he could hear for himself how Ebrahimi sounded."

At 3:30 a.m. Friday morning, Dayanim said the State Department dispatched an official from the American consulate in Istanbul to the airport. "That's when things changed for Ebrahimi, once the State Department official came," he said. 

Dayanim says he sent me the Facebook message late Thursday night because "without the media involved, the speed at which things happen is very slow."

Borzou Daragahi in Damascus

Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi. Credit: Ebrahimi's blog 

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