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in Filmmaking
on Jun 15, 2009

Filmmaker James Longley (the excellent Iraq in Fragments) is in Iran working on his new documentary film, which includes coverage of the current disputed election. He’s been blogging at Doug Block’s D-Word doc forum, and over the weekend posted an amazing series of bulletins about the election, which include his thoughts on what it means for Iranian politics and then a gripping description of his being detained while his translator was beaten. A.J. Schnack has collected these posts in a single blog entry here.

From one of the earlier posts:

If this outcome is allowed to stand, we now have a situation where tens of millions of Iranians will be going through the next four years believing that the president was installed by force in a coup de etat, whereas in the past there was merely a sensation of creeping, teeth-grinding dissatisfaction with the antics of those in power. The difference may seem academic, but it is fundamental. In history, Iranians have always eventually brought down governments which were regarded as not respecting the will and needs of the people to an unbearable degree. But only time will tell what the real consequences of all of this are.

From the later section describing their being apprehended:

As we reached the Ministry of Interior building they separated us and dragged my translator by his arms across the floor and down a flight of stairs; he eventually regained his footing on the second two flights of stairs leading downward to the holding cell, where about twenty people who had already been grabbed off the streets were kneeling on the floor in the darkened room with their hands tied behind their backs.

All during this process my translator was being kicked and sworn at. The police told him how they “would put their dicks in his ass” and how “your mother/sister is a whore” and so on. At one point he was beaten with a belt buckle. At another moment, they beat him with a police truncheon across his back, leaving a nasty welt.

My translator kept on insisting that he was an officially authorized translator working with an American journalist – which is perfectly true.

At this time I was above ground, in the entrance to the ministry, yelling over and over at the police to “Bring me my translator!” It was clear that they didn’t intend to beat me – although they may have wanted to – because I was a foreigner.

After a few minutes they relented and sent someone off to retrieve my translator from their holding cell, three floors down in the Ministry of Interior building.

They came into the holding cell and shouted “Where is the translator?!” and then, when he identified himself, they beat him again for “not telling them he was a translator.”

An English-speaking riot policeman tried to sweet-talk me, saying that in a riot situation anything can happen. I might have taken him more seriously had a riot actually been taking place when we were arrested. He also asked my translator to convince me not to report what had happened.

The complete posts can be found at the link. (Hat tip: Spout Blog.)

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