A British correspondent with The Economist was secretly detained in Iran for almost two months while on a reporting trip last year, in a worrying development in Tehran’s strategy of hostage-taking.
Nicolas Pelham, a veteran journalist with more than 30 years’ experience in the Middle East, revealed in the paper’s 1843 magazine that he was held by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) despite having a journalist visa issued by the government.
He was taken from his hotel in the capital Tehran in July of last year for questioning by IRGC intelligence officers as he was completing a week-long assignment and about to leave for the airport to return home to the UK.
Iran is known to use dual nationals, and in fewer cases single foreign nationals, as pawns in its standoff with the West. However, detaining foreign journalists on government-issued visas is rare.
His trip came at a time when relations between Tehran and London were at their worst.
Three days before Mr Pelham left for Iran, British marines impounded one of Iran’s largest oil tankers as it passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, suspecting it of breaking European sanctions by carrying oil to Syria.
Mr Pelham, speaking for the first time about his ordeal, said he was never charged or put in prison.
He spent the first few days held in a flat with minders, with whom, he said, he established an unusually friendly relationship.
“One guard assumed the role of language teacher,” he wrote in 1843 magazine. “Another insisted we exercise together, so we sat on the floor facing each other, intertwining our legs to perform sit-ups. After a day he suggested we dance to Iranian love songs, which he played on his mobile phone.”
Mr Pelham was then released, put up in a hotel and was free to explore the city without a minder. As he spent his days and evenings travelling around, he gained a rare insight into life in the city. “I felt as if I’d been given a key to a secret garden,” he said.
He was assured he would be allowed to leave after the first few weeks, but when his exit visa did not materialise it dawned on him: “I was caught in a political game involving high-seas tankers and international diplomacy that far exceeded my ability to influence it.”
He was eventually granted the visa and allowed to return to the UK, ending his seven-week virtual arrest.
Source » telegraph