Detained in Iran – “The wall was splattered with blood”
Published in “Der Spiegel” on November 29, 2009
Blindfolded, interrogated, kept in a tiny cell: Because he took pictures of a demonstration, the German student and blogger Florian Witulski was detained in Iran for days. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE he talks about the conditions of his detention.
Photo: Florian Witulski, http://www.vaitor.com/
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr Witulski, on November 8 the Iranian news agency announced that two Germans were released from prison. You were one of them. What had happened?
Witulski: I was in a taxi, near a demonstration on occasion of the 30th anniversary of the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran. I was pulled out of the car, because I had a camera with me. I had been taking pictures of the demonstration before.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Who pulled you out of the taxi?
Witulski: They were two members of the paramilitary Basij militias.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What happened afterwards?
Witulski: I was blindfolded and put into a car. I kept trying to explain in English that I was just a tourist and did not do anything illegal, but they just took my belongings and did not tell me anything. After that, we were in the car driving for about one and a half hours, and I was put into a cell.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was your cell part of a larger prison complex?
Witulski: All I know is that it was a small solitary cell.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did they treat you?
Witulski: They did not beat me, but it was pretty rough. It started already in the car, when they kept pushing down my head, practically I was blindfolded the entire time, and they kept jostling me. I could take breaks and rest, but the numerous interrogations carried out by constantly changing people were pretty exhausting indeed.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What did your cell look like?
Witulski: There was a rug, nothing else. They gave me water and small portions of rice, but hardly any information. One of the wardens spoke some English and he told me that I would soon be released. That was all I found out.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were you scared?
Witulski: Definitely. The cell really gave me an uneasy feeling. The wall was splattered with blood, the atmosphere was frightful.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What did they want from you?
Witulski: Information. They kept asking me why I was in Iran, why I took pictures, why I travelled to Iran now of all times, for whom I was working.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What did you tell them?
Witulski: I told them that I was in Iran as a tourist, that I was interested in the demonstrations. I assume they considered me to be a spy. I had a notebook with me, with notes, sketches, phone numbers. They asked me a lot of questions about that.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Did you see other inmates and how they were treated?
Witulski: No, but for a short time I was in another prison that belonged to the regular police, where they kept Iranian inmates. I don’t know whether they got beaten. But many of them were injured, had wounds in their faces, and black eyes.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were you really just a tourist?
Witulski: Yes, I only came to Iran for traveling.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have you been formally charged or convicted?
Witulski: After two days they handed me over to the police, where I was again interrogated. Then they took my passport and my camera, and I was allowed to return to the hotel. A couple of days later they took me to court, where they asked me questions again, but in the end it seems I was released, and they returned my passport to me.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you know who the second German citizen was?
Witulski: No, I have no idea.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were your Iranian acquaintances whose addresses you had with you bothered in any way?
Witulski: I had a few phone numbers of Iranians with me indeed, and the authorities in those cases did carry out investigations. They were interrogated, the house of one of them was raided. I phoned them all afterwards, nothing worse has happened to them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was the German embassy able to help you?
Witulski: The police did not even report my arrest to the German embassy. I myself notified them after my release. They did their best, but they could not really help me. They just advised me to leave the country as soon as possible.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And that’s what you did. Where are you at the moment?
Witulski: I am in Lahore, Pakistan.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So your adventure trip continues?
Witulski: Yes. But after Pakistan I will return home.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you going to travel to Iran again?
Witulski: I will try. It was nevertheless a fantastic journey. You have to accurately distinguish between the regime and the population.
Interview: Yassin Musharbash.