German TV broadcast: Iranian protesters in Germany being tracked by Iranian Intelligence (transcript)

2009/10/16

Published on October 15, 9:45 p.m. on TV channel ARD, “Panorama”

Video of the broadcast (German, English transcript given below)

Host: Do you remember these pictures? They were recorded during the mass protests in Iran in June. Hundreds of thousands were protesting against the election of President Ahmadinejad. Very courageous, for the Iranian regime makes short work with opposition members. There were arrests, torture, violence, deaths. In Germany, there were and still are protests against Ahmadinejad. About 120.000 Iranians live in Germany. In Germany, nobody has to fear anything when expressing their opinion. Nevertheless, the protesters are scared. They fear that they will be monitored and later repressed. The are afraid of Iranian agents who in Germany act just like they were in Iran.
Stefan Buchen reports on the power of the Iranian Secret Service, whose power is reaching far enough to have an effect in Germany.

Stefan Buchen (Reporter)

They wish to remain unidentified, because they are afraid of Ahmaidnejad’s spies. However, they do not want to be silent. Young Iranians are protesting against the regime of the mullahs in front of the town hall of Hamburg.

Scenes from Tehran of this summer.

In Germany, it is actually forbidden to attend demonstrations with covered faces. However, the authorities in Hamburg have issued a special permission to them – for good reasons.

1. Protester: We know from our experience that the Iranian regime is very active in Europe, spying, especially on members of the opposition.

2. Protester: Maybe I will go to Iran next year, to visit my family during the holidays, and therefore it is dangerous when they videotape me here now. If the government in Iran notices that, maybe the police will arrest me in Iran. That is pretty dangerous.

Reporter: That these concerns are justified even is confirmed by the Hamburg State Agency for Protection of the Constitution (“Verfassungsschutz”)

Manfred Murck: To me, it is absolutely understandable that members of the Iranian opposition in Germany do not want to be easily identified while exercising their rights of protest and assembly in Germany.

Reporter: Amateur videos show an unknown person eagerly taking pictures of individual protestors. Maybe he is a spy, maybe he is harmless – on all accounts, he is a reason to worry.

3. Protester: We talked to him, asked him what he is doing, and he said he is filming just like everyone else. After that, our friends told him that he is not allowed to take pictures here, and then he withdrew and disappeared.

Manfred Murck: We have information that the Iranian Service attempts to identify opposition members, that they work with video and cameras, to systematically spot people. And we also know that they have their agents mingle with the demonstrators on occasion of protests.

Reporter: During this demonstration in front of the Iranian Embassy in Berlin it became quite evident. Men with cameras suddenly step out of the embassy building and start to systematically take pictures of the participants. Iranian dissidents have reported that Iranians who visit Iran are often confronted with this kind of pictures and threatened.

The other side of the story:
Rahim Torkashvand from Berlin was supposed to spy on Iranians in Germany. It all started when he went back to Iran years ago. There, he was imprisoned – for no reason. They told him he would only be released if he agreed to cooperate with the Intelligence Service, meaning that he was supposed to spy on opposition members. Rahim Torkashvand was desperate.

Torkashvand: I couldn’t bear it any longer.. I was scared… I am not a hero, I am an ordinary man… because of my fear I agreed, but in my heart I never wanted to sell my conscience… I didn’t want to do anything. Only out of fear I agreed, because I wanted to be released and go back to Germany.

Reporter: Back in Berlin, he feels safe. Instead of spying on the opposition, he works up his courage, contacts the German police and delivers a detailed report about his contacts with the Iranian intelligence sevice. For the Iranian regime, this was an embarrassing disaster. However, the Iranian ambassador in Berlin has a remarkable denial ready.

(Iranian Ambassador to Germany) Sheikh Attar: Our service is professional to an extent that when they invite someone to cooperate, never would that someone contact you to tell you about it. Our service, as well as all intelligence services of advanced countries, disposes of technology that enables them to find out about anything happening in any place of the world. Therefore, we do not have any interest in recruiting such people.

Reporter: By others, however, Rahim Torkashvand, is considered to be highly credible: The Bundesanwaltschaft (Office of the attorney general of the Federal Republic of Germany), the highest investigative authority in Germany. Torkashvand provided valuable information about further agents, and his information even triggered investigations into activities of the Iranian Intelligence in Germany.

Reporter: However, many dissidents are not intimidated by the spies and continue protesting, like, for example, in Berlin. Sara Dehkordi does not cover her face. She has organized many rallies so far and is collecting money for many more to come.

Sara D. This protest movement is something that most Iranians abroad have been waiting for for decades, more precisely, for the past 30 years. And many had already lost hope.

Reporter: This picture shows Sara 20 years ago, on her father’s arm. Her father was a dissident. Two years after this picture was taken, her father was killed by the Iranian Intelligence Service in Berlin. It happened in the restaurant “Mykonos”.
Sara’s father together with three other opposition members died in a hail of bullets. This incident was part of a series of killings that remained largely unpunished. The Iranians who had ordered the killing of Sara’s father escaped unscathed.
Today, Sara has become an icon of the protest movement that was born last summer, and therefore she is in the crosshairs of the spies today.

Sara D: In those past 3 months I received at least 65 calls from a certain number, it was a satellite line, nobody answers the phone when you call back, so it is not traceable. They called me at least 65 times and hung up. This did not happen to me only, but also to other members of the network, and other people who we know.

Reporter: After the 65th call she quitted documenting them.

Sara D: Of course, we presume that those calls are made by the Iranian Intelligence. It’s always just the same sort of tactic, like “we know everything, we keep an eye on you, on all activists Berlin, on all activists abroad. We know your names, we even have your phone numbers.”

Reporter: The ambassador’s comment on this is – cynical.

Sheikh Attar: You know, those who do not agree with the election result in Iran and protest legally – they are not a problem for us at all. For the entire 4 year term of President Ahmadinejad they may criticize, give speeches, publish articles. We have no problem with these people.

Reporter: It is not only the opposition on which the Iranian regime is trying to exert pressure, but also the Federal Government of Germany. The mullahs have even demanded that the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the Foreign Office) abolish the freedom of opinion of Iranians in Germany. The Ministry reported of repeated requests by the Iranian government to limit the freedom of speech for Iranians living in Germany.

This is also a lie, claims the Iranian Ambassador.

Sheikh Attar No letter and no oral communication to order such actions has been released by us. I would like to tell you – and I hope you have enough broadcasting time for that: A lot of lies have been spread on the news about the protests.

Reporter In front of the camera: denials, and behind it: tough confrontation of regime opponents, even in Germany.
Sara and her fellow protesters hope that Germany will never again back off from the brutality of the Iranian Intelligence Service. They want to continue protesting in Germany, for a free and democratic Iran.

Sara: My personal opinion is, we always have to remind ourselves that when the people in Iran take to the streets to demonstrate, they are exposed to machine guns. The protesters in Iran can get arrested and then tortured any time.
But they are doing it anyway.

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