With foreign journalists unable to report on events in Iran, expatriates in the UAE must rely on intermittent telephone calls and e-mails from their relatives to discover what is happening.
Dubai gives voice to Iran's outrage
DUBAI // Though thousands continue taking to the streets of Tehran protesting against the results of last Friday's elections, the regime has worked to quench coverage of the story, allowing very little news of the demonstrations to leave Iran.
Only a few hundred kilometres from the Iranian shore in Dubai, those with relatives and friends in their homeland rely on mere trickles of information as they themselves have taken to protest outside the city's Iranian consulate. "My family was standing next to the police station in Azadi Square, and they killed a guy right in front of them," recounted Mohammed, a 24-year-old university student in Dubai. "My sister and mother were screaming. It's horrible."
Speaking nervously, with his eyes scanning continuously as if looking for anyone spotting him, he explained the stress and frustration of trying to obtain solid news out of Iran. "I can't speak to them except on the landline, which takes ages to get through, and I'm really worried because they too are attending the rallies over there, and the police are beating and killing people," he said. Beatings, shootings, harassment, and intimidation are happening daily in Tehran to those questioning the election results, members of Dubai's Iranian community say.
"I'm really worried about them, my friends and my family, because I can't talk to them," said Sara, a protester dressed in a green T-shirt and wearing a mask. "The SMS system has been completely disabled, no texts are coming through, the internet is not working all the time, and it is impossible to get through on the mobiles. The only way of contact is on the landlines, but that takes a couple of hours of trying."
"All forms of communication are being monitored, so getting through to them is largely dependent on luck," she added. "Even over there, they also have no idea of what is going on because the television stations are just showing movies, not the news. And if they do show the news, it's only Ahmadinejad saying that everything is fine and the elections were fair." Anger and disbelief apparent on her face, she described how several friends had been beaten with electrified clubs by the police as they were leaving university.
"The thing is, they're not doing anything to disturb the police, they were just getting into a taxi to go home," she said. "It is so sad; they are our people." Parsa, a 26-year-old student whose family and friends are in Tehran, described what his loved ones have had to endure. "A friend of the family, she's 16 years old, was beaten by the police with a baton just because she was standing in the street," he said. "They beat her on her head with it.
"Another friend of mine was picking up his father from work; they came at his car, smashed all the windows, and beat them up. For no reason at all," he added. "It's disgusting." Only a week ago, Parsa was using the internet and websites like Facebook to download entertainment and share jokes. Now they are among the only means of accessing information on what is happening in Iran. "I'm refreshing the pages every 10 minutes," he said. "I can't do anything else but follow the news."
Even internet access in Iran is limited, Iranians in Dubai say. "They blocked Facebook and YouTube for a while but now some can be accessed but it is filtered," Parsa said. According to Mehran Kas, a 23-year-old student in Dubai, the number of wounded in Iranian hospitals continues to climb. "I have a friend who works in one of the hospitals, and he said that more than 200 people are coming in every day now with injuries," he said.
"Even my friends at university over there are being beaten. I know at least two or three people who have been beaten for doing nothing. They are still in hospital now." Farid, 30, an Iranian, was told private hospitals were not allowed to take any of the wounded, forcing the injured to go to the government hospitals. That allowed the security apparatus to track the opposition. He said a friend of his in Tehran had disappeared three days ago.
"He's been taken away by the police," Farid said. "He was inside the parking, they came and damaged his car, and took him away." No one had heard from him since, he added: "People are even afraid to ask after those who have gone missing, because they will started taking family members away too." Others describe phone calls telling people in Tehran not to speak on the phone or offer information on what is happening.
"A friend of the family received a telephone call from the Ministry of Interior, telling him not to give any information," said Steve, who is married to an Iranian. "I'm very worried about my children's future with this situation." One of the biggest questions asked by those protesting in Dubai is what would happen to them if they returned to Tehran. "We wear the masks to cover our faces, to hide our identities," Parsa said. But the Iranian security apparatus has extended to Dubai, where a member of the consulate staff has been filming all those present at the protests.
"If they identify us, they will take us as soon as we step into the airport," he said. "This has already been happening to people." Amir, a 25-year-old who lives in Dubai, is booked to return to Tehran next week. Although desperate to return and be with his family - his cousin was shot in the stomach during one of the protests - he is concerned over what may happen to him on his return. "I'm really worried, in case they get me at the airport," Amir said. "But our brothers our dying, so I have to go back."