‘Back to Iran?’
and Lily are two Iranian asylum seekers, who fearing for their life fled
Iran. Elia was working on a blog exposing the repression of opponents
of the regime and highlighting the work of human rights groups. His co-blogger
was arrested and Elia went on the run with his wife Lily.
Iran jails opponents, executes trade unions, and you can face imprisonment
or execution if you break their strict moral codes. Elia is a photographer,
filmmaker and journalist and his wife Lily a poet, singer and actress.
They arrived in the UK in 2009 and claimed asylum. But the UK government
has rejected their application. And now they face deportation. I spoke
with Elia at the Nerve Centre.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
My name is Elia Sad I was born in 1979 Tehran-Iran.
Tell me about your life in Iran?
After secondary school I could not go to public university this is almost
impossible unless you meet the classifications set by the ministry of
education. However, I did manage to enter Azad University as a Graphic
design student in 1998. In order to fund myself I started to work in a
weekly newspaper called Payam-e-Daneshjoo. The main audience for this
newspaper was students and young people. Initially I worked as a graphic
designer, and then found myself being pulled more towards Media and Journalism.
I started writing about the student’s movement called “Jebhe
Mottahed Daneshjooee” this was lead by Hasan Zare Ardeshir and they
campaigned for more press and media freedom. The most popular part of
this campaign was what was called ‘freedom of pencil’. I then
became a member of this group. Most of my work and columns on the paper
I suppose reflected this group’s aims. I then lost my job at the
paper because they found out I was a member of this group and this was
contrary to the policy of my profession.
So what happened then?
I was still a student then; the atmosphere at that time at the University
was generally calm in Tehran apart from usual accusations of out of marriage
relationships and personal attacks that happened to others and me occasionally.
But then Special Forces closed down the student newspaper and attacked
the Dr. Beheshty University in July 1999. I and some of other free journalists
were present to document what was happening, and to report on the clashes
and possible wounded or dead people. After realizing that at least 2 people
had died I could not just write reports, so I joined thousands of other
students calling for an end to state violence. After 5 days of protest
I was arrested on 13th of July 99 by “plain clothes secret police”
they are called “Ansar-e-Hizbollah” I was forced violently
into a minibus transported to a Mosque called Abolfazl then blindfolded
and dropped in a van and transported to “Touhid” prison. For
the first two weeks at Touhid prison I was kept in solitary confinement
and interrogated every day. Once in the Morning and once in the evening.
As well as the questioning and swearing I was also beaten and tortured.
They were forcing me to stand facing a wall and questioning me and then
they were punching me from behind when I was least expecting it, I couldn’t
see who was punching me. They were squeezing my private parts while I
was blind folded and then threatening to rape me if I didn’t sign
this document they had prepared. They were claiming my journalist reports
were being funded by the Israeli government, and I was guilty of acts
against the security of Islamic Republic. It got to a point where my body
couldn’t take it anymore, I feel embarrassed about mentioning this,
but they hurt my private parts with a cola bottle and I was bleeding internally.
I had an injury in my eyes and a broken finger on my left hand. After
two months and twenty days I agreed to sign and admit to their accusations.
3 days later, they transferred me to the Islamic revolutionary court at
section 26 and while I had no barrister to defend me, they announced their
verdict to me. The court charged me with act against national security
of the Islamic republic and I was sentenced to 12 months in prison. A
police car transported me to Evin prison in the Vanak area of northern
Tehran. For 28 hours I was placed in a single cell at unit 207 of Evin
then, transferred to unit 209 where I was questioned and interrogated
for 7 days. The interrogators wanted to know what information I had given
to the Israeli government. As well as reminding me of the torture they
had already committed on me. They kept me awake for days by reciting loud
passages from the Quran, they didn’t allow me to sleep, or use the
toilet and they tortured me again by fastening me to the bed and whipping
me. After 7 days they sent me to the public section of Evin, however,
they continued to torture me, mostly mentally for the next 4 months at
Evin. After 6 months of my sentence, they sent me back to section 209
and told me they are preparing another case against me for the revolutionary
court based on acts against the Islamic republic, this they said, would
end with my execution. They told me If only I signed a document saying
I would never act against the interests of the regime, they would let
me go. My father also had to use the deeds to his shop for my bail. I
was then released from prison but every two weeks I had to report to police
station near to my father home this happened for the next 5 and a half
I tried to start my studies again at the university but the principals
told me I had been expelled because of my long absence. They were not
interested in my explanation. I also tried to get back to work in my previous
job but they said they had no option but to replace me with another photographer.
There didn’t seem to be anything I could do. I later met Mr. S.H
who had worked for Keyhan and Abrar newspapers and he had been sacked
from the newspaper office. We decided to run a newly weekly paper called
‘Golbang e Iran’. We started with cultural articles but this
weekly was soon banned by the Ministry of Cultural “Ershad”
after one of my articles “Iran in Jail” was printed. They
said our newspaper was trying to widen the gap between the Islamic idea
and the national thoughts. This was in 2001. I had to earn income, somehow.
So a year after Golbang was banned, me and some friends, started a monthly
magazine. Unfortunately, this magazine was soon banned Ershad Ministery
of culture said it was “Copying the values of westernized countries
and promoting Western values”. In September 2002 with the help of
friend of mine O.B, we started to produce a film. It was during the production
of this film that I met my wife Leily. The film was banned from being
shown in public they believed that the content contradicted the Islamic
philosophy. Therefore, the producer and director and also some of the
cast were arrested and taken to the Islamic Court in Iran- the only court
system in Iran. As a result, the film has never been seen in public and
the Producers were prohibited from any further creative activity of this
sort. These individuals then came under the Iranian authority radar and
since then several have been jailed for their continued creative activity
including me and Mehrab Shahmohamdi. In 2003 I started working freelance
to provide reports and photos for “Shargh” newspaper but after
Shargh was stopped its publishing; I lost that source of money too. In
2004 I was invited again by Mr.S.H to get involved in a magazine called
“Seda & Sima “which was a seasonal magazine managed by
a private group of Radio and TV producers. I started working with them
supplying the magazine with my photos and reports and designing pages.
Because of the contents of the magazine “Herasat Forces” the
senses of radio and TV put this magazine under lots of pressure to self
censorship but the organizer of magazine decided they would rather stop
publishing rather than be dictated to. Seda & Sima was stopped and
again I suffered financially. In 2006 I started working for the “Young
Journalists Club” as a photojournalist, but this ended when I was
sacked from the club because the intelligent services had contacted the
club officials and expressed their dissatisfaction with pictures used
in a Gallery in Gandy Street. The photos were of women’s rights
activities and a large amount of pictures showing Iran as it is. The photos
were produced by me. The “YJC” had asked the authorities to
handle the case themselves, but they were given a choice ‘either
sack me or face total closedown’.
So how did you survive after that?
this time I relied on my family for income and also my wife’s had
a small income. The hatred I was feeling from the Iranian Regime was really
getting into my bones, I tried to get my life back on track after being
released from prison and I could not succeed. I decided to reach out and
send my work to independent foreign media such as Al Shargh, Radio Farda,
Zenith and news centre in order to break the censorship of the government.
I really hoped I could earn at least small amounts of money and at the
same time create some interest in my work. This really felt like the only
option open to me as a journalist. Having had doors close all around me
my future looked bleak. All my hopes, principles, ambitions, aims, not
just mine but many other people had been destroyed by the Islamic Republic
of Iran. With the help of a friend of mine Babak who had been in Touhid
prison when I was there, we decided to change our weblog from a straight
forward art blog to a anti regime blog called “Iran e Rouz”.
This blog was created in 2004 and aimed to cover news inside Iran. “Iran-e-rouz”
expressed anti-government sentiments and reported on movements such as
human rights activities, women’s rights, religious minorities and
political activities against Ahmadi Nejad‘s government. They were
feeling insecure about the oncoming Election they had competition from
Mir Hosein Musavi’s opposition party who would later became the
Green Wave movement.
But could they not trace the blog back to
Well, eventually the ministry of intelligence and national security found
out who was behind the blog. On 12th April 2009 my friend Babak was arrested.
Babak’s family managed to get a coded message to my family, who
then alerted me of the situation. That very day they raided my parent’s
home, looking for me. Fortunately I hadn’t been there for months.
I had been living a nomadic existence for fear of being arrested; I’d
been travelling around Tehran and other cities staying at different places,
but they took some of my books, papers and my computer.
So you had to go on the run?
Well yes, the arrest of Babak reminded me of my time in prison, I was
terrified of going back there. I had already been diagnosed with depression,
mental instability and stress, after my release from evin prison. This
time if I was arrested I would be charged with acts to overthrow the Islamic
republic and I would be given the death sentence. I could not risk my
life or my wife’s life. The only option left for me was to flee
How did you flee?
Well we paid money to an agent to send us to the USA or Canada, but he
cheated us. He got us to Turkey and even when we arrived in the UK, we
actually thought at the airport we were in the USA. He made a lot of money
out of us. We claimed asylum because we ‘were in fear for our life’
on the grounds of my previous activities and my opposition to the Iranian
So, what is your situation now? (regarding
Our asylum claim has been refused, and on appeal we have been refused.
I am very worried and stressed about this situation now, and can’t
sleep at night. I am really afraid, and I am worried about my wife that
we will be sent back to Iran.
What can people do if they want to support
Well I suppose what people have said. If they can highlight our case and
let as many know as possible. Sign our petition that is very important
for us. And if people can send us letters of support, and maybe if they
give us references of support. All this may help us being able to make
afresh claim for asylum.
I know the readers can’t see this but Elia has found this interview
very difficult and has been shaking the whole time. Thank you and I wish
you all the luck in the world.
Elia and Lily will be talking and showing their
work at the Nerve Centre, Renshaw Street on Thursday 9th September at
If you would like to show your support to Elia and
Comment left by Teresa Williamson on 8th September, 2010 at 12:23
Elia & Lily are 2 beautiful people who just want to live their lives in peace, in a world where we have freedom of thought & speech, where people are allowed to be! Thanks for this enlightening article. All the best with the campaign. Good luck Elia & Lily, best wishes, Teresa X
Comment left by Tracey Dunn on 9th February, 2012 at 11:51
Just been granted asylum !!!