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What inspired you to travel to Iran and are you in any way related to the protests?
Aby: I was inspired by a book I’d read. At first, I thought it was impossible to go to Iran as a woman by herself, but I was inspired by the great history and culture of the country so I had to make this trip possible. My ticket was booked back in April and unfortunately, everything started shortly before our departure.
I am not personally related to the events going on there and thought to stay away from the protests and follow the rules, just to ensure we’d be safe and alright. This also prompted us not to cancel the trip.
Lilou: I also do not have any links to what is currently going on in Iran, and it was Aby who motivated me to go with her. She told me quite a lot about it, and I also wanted to discover the culture. Approximately ten days after I bought my ticket, the demonstrations started.
Where exactly in Iran did you go and how long did you stay?
Aby: In total, I planned nine full days in Iran. The first three days we were in Teheran, then two days in Isfahan, two in Shiraz and the last two days in Yazd. We wanted to see every little bit of the country and not just the capital.
How did you witness the protests and where did you witness them?
Lilou: Actually, we did not want to see them. We just saw one in Teheran by mere coincidence. We visited the Ibrat Museum and after that, we planned to go to the Azadi Tower. After reaching the subway station, we witnessed the start of the protest. What made us immediately turn back was the presence of soldiers and gunshots ringing in the air.
Aby: Yeah exactly, it was a complete accident. Our reactions were quick, and we managed to safely escape and return home.
Can you describe the protest itself and what exactly did you experience?
Lilou: On the internet, I had previously seen protests in Iran, and this was unlike them. It was in the afternoon, and it came out of nowhere. From our point of view, we just saw a small fragment. I did not see many civilians but mainly saw armed policemen and soldiers. I think we witnessed the beginning of the protests but didn’t spend long enough time to see it through.
Aby: It took me a couple of seconds to realise what I was seeing. I was on the same side as the soldiers, and they began walking in the other direction. I was in shock, and it took me another few seconds to say, “Go back!”. As Lilou said, it was indeed a very small part. It was just too dangerous to be in this place. The smartest decision was to run away.
Did you see the protesters as well?
Aby: They were on the other side. I did not have time to look.
Lilou: We mainly saw the soldiers, that’s it! When we turned back, two Iranian guys talked to us, but we were not able to understand them. I guess they were telling us to go to the other side of the street because they were doing some gestures with their hands.
Can you tell me how you felt at this moment? What was it like being there?
Aby: It was hard, we were shocked! It is completely different to watch it through videos or social media. It doesn’t make you feel good, and I cannot imagine what the Iranian locals are going through.
Lilou: I have also seen protests on social media, and I have seen protests in real life too, but the context of this situation was very unexpected. For me, it was surprising. It just happened so fast. It was quite bizarre, as we went to another nearby street and it was completely normal. No one appeared to be shocked or scared.
Aby: The whole city was full of policemen, especially in the evenings. They were literally everywhere.
Lilou: Even though we saw only one protest we saw many soldiers, policemen and military cars in all the main areas of Tehran. We also saw a lot of ambulances, so you could easily tell that something was going on.
What was the environment like in the other regions?
Aby: After the whole experience in Teheran, it was very stressful in the other cities even though it was much quieter. In Shiraz and Isfahan everything looked just normal. I do not remember seeing policemen or protests in the other cities, but we were so stressed from what we experienced. Only in Yazd there were policemen in the main square and on one of the main streets, but we avoided them.
Lilou: When you are going to a Middle Eastern country you must be very cautious. Even before the protests I knew this was a special country and especially as a woman you cannot talk loud on the streets or show off. But after being arrested and interrogated of course we became more worried. We even avoided speaking English in public places because it would be suspicious to see tourists during this time.
Why do you think you were arrested?
Lilou: We wanted to reach the Azadi tower after escaping from the protest. And on our way, we wanted to take some pictures, but several policemen in civil clothing just arrested us because they thought we were taking pictures of the army or the police station.
Aby: It was another surprise for us, and it happened so fast. I do not know how many of them were there, but they surrounded us and took our phones, passports and bags and forced us to get into a car. We could not understand what was going on until we were close enough to the car to see the blue and red lights. That is when I knew we were in trouble. We had no choice but to enter the car.
Do you feel comfortable sharing more about the interrogation process?
Lilou: Just to make it clear they never touched us or did anything to us. They were a bit rude but physically we were perfectly fine. Mentally not that much.
Aby: They started with a lot of questions about who we are because it was very weird for them that two girls decided to visit Iran. They asked us at least three times “Why Iran?” and “What do you know about Iran?”. Our belongings were taken, and they checked our mobiles more than ten times.
Lilou: Later, they also asked us about our home addresses, and what we do for a living and we also had to write which cities we were going to visit. They even went as far as asking us which countries border Iran, which was a very surprising question, but they wanted to know whether we knew the specifics about Iran. They also took pictures of our belongings and IDs. Overall, the interrogation lasted around three hours. After it all ended, they warned us not to take any pictures of the army or the soldier because it is illegal.
Aby: After this, we were so scared. We even did not want to share it with others until the trip ended because they had our phones. They could have potentially tracked us and we were just scared.
How is the Iranian society reacting to what is happening and how is everyday life going on?
Aby: The locals were very kind and helpful. That is what I had heard about Iran and wanted to experience for myself. The danger comes from government officials because you never know who is a civilian and who is an undercover policeman. I had prepared some questions but the guides in the museums in Tehran were too afraid to answer them. This was expected because talking could cost them their lives.
What we got from the conversations was that the people are begging for freedom. They are unhappy with the regime and with the political climate.
That is why they are fighting because they are extremely tired from the tedious regime. It has been like this for the last 4/5 years.
Do you have any final remarks you want to make or something more to share?
Lilou: The day after the arrest we met an Iranian man in our hostel who had participated in the previous revolution and was tortured by the police. When we told him what happened to us, he was not surprised because this was a normal occurrence in Iran. The lady at the reception told us that women were now getting arrested, tortured, and even raped by policemen. They are just so tired of this and want the world to know about it.
Disclaimer: The King’s Business Review conducted this interview to give a platform for these students to speak about their experiences. We in no way intend to speak on behalf of or for those currently struggling in Iran.
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