Amir-Tohid Fazel, an Iranian 20 year veteran of political journalism, recently risked everything on a flight to freedom.
On August 18, 2019 Fazel was among the delegation leaving Iran to accompany foreign affairs Minister Javad Zarif on a six day trip to three countries: Finland, Norway and Sweden. Later in the trip the itinerary changed, and France was added.
Norway was the first stop and then they were off to Sweden for two days.
On the morning of Wednesday, August 21, while in Sweden, Fazel succeeded in tricking the Iranian press security detail that had been assigned by the foreign ministry. He was able to get separated from his press group or, in his words, was able to “escape”.
After removing himself from the group, Fazel recounted he just started running. He was able to locate a group of police officers and told them he was escaping the Iranian delegation. The police treated him politely and respectfully and sent him to the immigration office in Stockholm where he applied for asylum.
At the time, Fazel’s family was unaware of his situation. He was not sure if he could really do it, so why involve his family and put them at risk?
The Tuesday before Fazel had received word from a coworker back at his office in Iran that intelligence officers had visited and wanted to arrest Fazel. His friend also told him to tell his family not to stay at home that night as Iranian intelligence would be coming for them.
This information pushed Fazel make his decision to escape. But how could he do it? Many eyes were watching him on this international trip. In Stockholm Iranian intelligence, along with Zarif’s security detail, was following the group's every move.
At breakfast, Fazel learned the security detail was not going to lets journalist cover any news the next day. He heard a security guard tell his colleague “board all of the journalists on the bus and take them to the location where Zarif is giving his speech, then take them to the embassy and make sure they don’t leave the building until the Zarif is finished with his meetings. Then take them directly to the airport.”
When it was time to board the bus Fazel handed security his two suitcases (he kept a small backpack with a few clothes in it with him). He then asked the security detail if he could smoke, as an excuse to separate himself from the group. Every time he wanted to smoke the security guards became upset and annoyed. “Ah crap, what are you up to? How much do you need to smoke?” they demanded.
That night they were locked in their hotel rooms at 7 PM and told to stay there until 9 AM the next morning. At midnight Fazel again bothered the guards to go out for a smoke and again the guards were angry with him and ordered him back to his room.
The next morning Fazel again asked the security guard if he could smoke and insisted that he would only be right behind the bus. “Just one cigarette, my suitcases are already checked in with you, I just want a smoke.” The guard was angry, but let him go. At that moment, as soon as Fazel was behind the bus, he took off running as fast as he could, never looking back, not knowing if he was being followed. His phone began to ring, so he quickly stopped and removed the SIM card and threw it away and kept running.
Fazel found a taxi, jumped in and told the driver to take him to the nearest police station. The taxi started driving back towards the hotel on the way to the police station and Fazel started to panic. He told the driver to avoid the hotel and to go another direction. With panic setting in they eventually made it to the police station where he was then taken to immigration to file for asylum.
At this point Fazel did not have access to a phone or to the Internet to notify his family until Thursday. When he got his phone back he noticed several “friendly“ messages from the same group of people, presumably Iranian intelligence masquerading as his family saying “Dear Fazel, don’t disappoint us, come back to Iran, we will tell them you simply got lost, we will defend you.”
Iranian intelligence told horrible lies to his wife and children. “How will they answer to God?” he asked himself.
Fazel declared, “One who takes a step on his path is ready to sacrifice everything to get absolutely everything. He cuts off all belongings, dependencies.” There is a Persian expression “you are slamming on the water. “
Fazel also exposed Foreign Minister Zarif’s extravagances with his private jet, team, 12 journalists, intelligence officers and security forces. Where does the money come from? He says he doesn’t know but guessed from the same source that pays €400 a night for journalists, €700 per night for Zarif's security team, €1300 per night for Zarif’s guards and closest entourage, and €2000 per night for Zarif’s private suite at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm.
Meanwhile Fazel thinks his journalist buddies must come to their own decisions and ask themselves if the low salary paid every two months is worth it. Can they respond to their children’s needs, could they get a better job, can they follow their dreams?
Someone in Zarif’s delegation asked Fazel why he escaped and he replied, “One day Zarif will escape if he has a conscience, one day.”
The Iranian regime has said “our chest is the safe of secrets.” Fazel replies, “Yes, the safe will eventually open. I will open it. I will reveal what you’re afraid of to be told. Do you remember that list you were looking for? It is with me, and I will disclose it!”
*The information was provided by an inside source of Amir-Tohid Fazel's own account.
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Congratulations on your escape.