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The Abduction

24 Jun 2009 17:1824 Comments

By MICHELLE MAY in Tehran/Dubai | 24 June 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] The day after the Supreme Leader delivered his Friday prayer at Tehran University the streets of Tehran felt eerily quiet. Although friends translated his prayer to me, I went to a net cafe to read western analysis of what the Ayatollah said. I tried to access CNN online, but the government had slowed down the internet to keep Iranians feeling isolated that week.

As I waited for the news to load a young man named Ali offered to help me. I expressed my annoyance to him over the slowed internet speed, and the fact that Facebook, Gmail, Twitter and the BBC had all been blocked. "Our government is very bad," he said. I nodded my head slightly.

Just then CNN's page miraculously loaded. The word "bloodshed" stuck out in the headline next to a photo of the white-bearded Supreme Leader. It wasn't reassuring.

Ali helped me hail a taxi to Valiasr Square to meet a friend for coffee. The taxi quickly moved through streets that were normally clogged with gridlock traffic. As we approached my destination two motorbikes pulled up on both sides of the taxi, waving for us to pull over. There were Basiji men.

An unfamiliar feeling of terror came over me the moment I recognized one of the men as Ali from the net cafe. The other three had all the classic Basiji traits: dark beards, husky builds, walkie-talkies, shirts buttoned up to the top, but un-tucked at the bottom for better access to pistols stored in the waist of their trousers.

Ali motioned for me to get out of the car. "No, no, no!" I cried, shaking my head, tears pouring down my face, my mouth going dry, my throat feeling as if it were going to close. Two other motorbikes with Basij came up behind us, along with another car. There were at least 10 of them and one of me. My mind started to race: Who do they possibly think I am, and what have I done for them to make such a production over me?

I attempted to make a scene. I plead with them to leave me alone, hoping that by attracting a crowd they would leave. It didn't work. They took me by the arms and shoved me into their car. Ali took my Irish passport, questioning me about each and every stamp in it. He riffled through my bag, demanded to know where my mobile phone was. He didn't believe that I didn't have one. He continued to examine every object in my bag, looking at pens as potential spy devices. He accused me of being a "terrorist," a "spy." He questioned whether or not I had been in Iran a month prior to that to "make trouble in the election process."

"Why have you been to Iran so many times?!" he shouted at me. I ignored his questions demanding to know where they were taking me. He didn't answer. We drove around Tehran, attempting to enter a few anonymous-looking barracks on the edge of the city in search of their "boss." I felt doomed. The idea of going into a barracks scared me. I thought the time had come to jump out of the car and make a getaway. Would they shoot me? Would they let me run?

As soon as I put my hand on the handle, the power locks were quickly employed.

I tried to calm myself. I switched tactics. I told them the truth. I told them how much I loved Iran. I explained how horrible it was that my love affair with Iran was coming to such an abrupt end. I tried to negotiate. I begged Ali to take me to a regular police station, as opposed to a basij barracks.

Hundreds of officers and riot police were gathering at police stations all across the city that day as they were clamping down on protesters, with the Supreme Leader's blessing. As luck would have it, we drove by a station. I pounded on the window and made eye contact with a soldier.

Ali asked the driver to stop the car and agreed to leave me in the care of a regular uniformed police officer -- a teddy bear compared to Basij. As we sat in the car another half hour Ali continued to question me about my job, my religion, my marital status and my political views. I begged him not to hurt me. He appeared insulted by my request.

"Trust me," he said.

Inside the police station I was questioned by a female officer wearing a full black chador. She was young and appeared more fascinated by me than suspicious. "CNN?" "BBC?" she asked. With hand motions I replied, "Reading, not writing." I think she understood. She brought me to the Chief of Police, who made a production over some of the Farsi numbers in my passport. Finally he said the only phrase he could muster in English: "It's okay. No problem."

I began to hyperventilate. Then fainted.

Two women in chadors rushed over to take care of me. They fed me sugar water.

Two male officers then lead me to a police truck. I was in a daze as we drove across the city, eventually driving through a gate that looked palatial, especially in comparison to the other places I had been that day. It was the office of the division of police that dealt with foreigners. Again I was questioned, but this time they brought a tray of chocolates and a juice box.

The man who interviewed me spoke perfect English. "What happened?" he asked, apparently puzzled by the police report. I told him of the dramatic Basij abduction. His boss came in and apologized for Basij's behavior. "We treat all foreigners with great respect, Ms. Michelle May."

With that I broke down and began to sob. I was relieved the ordeal was over, relieved that I was free. The chief of police also came into the office we were in. He asked the man questioning me to translate: "He said tell her to please stop crying because her tears are killing my soul."

The man questioning me said it was best to leave the country as soon as possible due to "sensitivities." I imagined he was embarrassed by what was happening.

I left the next day as he advised, not relaxing until the plane actually lifted off the ground. As it did, I felt overwhelmed by the sense that I was one of the lucky ones allowed to leave. Like many others on the plane I also started to cry out of sadness and immense guilt about the ones we left behind.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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What a great story! It must have been like it was in

Nazi Germany.

Lauvredis / June 24, 2009 6:00 PM

i can only imagine the terror u must have felt,

i'm glad you are safe.

i wander, is there anyway people outside of Iran could support the demonstrants?

could you help me out on that?

brandy cools, antwerp, belgium.

brandy cools / June 24, 2009 6:16 PM

what a sad story.

and what's going on down there is even more sad.

i hope u're okey now, and i hope iranian people will get peace and a free country.

iraninmyheart / June 24, 2009 6:17 PM

"I began to hyperventilate. Then fainted.

Two women in chadors rushed over to take care of me. They fed me sugar water."

Hmm? How do you know that if you were unconscious?

Fred / June 24, 2009 6:35 PM

Michelle, Great news that you got out safely. Close call.

Would you tell why you were in Iran -- and for how long? Did you come alone? Stay in a hotel (with many Westerners?)? How did you avoid (earlier) suspicion of Iranian authorities?

You, a foreigner and female, went out to an Internet cafe in Tehran after Supreme Leader's Friday prayer. Were streets of Tehran safe then?? It seems Basij, police were/are everywhere, even in koocheh alleys. True?

Pls tell us what else you saw...and your advice for staying safe during a violent crackdown. Welcome back to sanity. --MT

Mary / June 24, 2009 6:49 PM

Thank You for sharing this harrowing and heart wrenching tale with us. Many more will never be written I fear.

Governments have long "used" religion as a stabilizing force in society as the moral tenets of the 3 major faiths assist followers in developing wholesome and desirable character traits which can promote the common good.

When any religion attempts to use government to promote a specific agenda it will cause division local or global.

To extol the virtue of ones religion is expected and useful, to do so at the expense of other faiths is neither wise nor godly. Religion is a personal matter but not a private matter as ones faith typically encounters various belief systems, secular and spiritual on a daily basis, which require a response or a personal "choice". The heart of tolerance is in understanding that "choice" is born of God given volition (ie a right)!

In the arena of ideas and Ideals there are various voices espousing philosophy. This is a healthy interaction so long as it does not make a target of those who may disagree. You can not make someone believe something, they must "choose" to believe via persuasion.

To persuade requires trust and trust must be earned.

Not every voice has a right to speak into your life.

- Pray for Peace -


Folklight / June 24, 2009 7:24 PM

I'm very moved by your story.

What's happening in Iran shames all the free people of the world that we do nothing, but feel no shame you have done something by telling your story. Be proud.

'The moral arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice'

Erik / June 24, 2009 9:59 PM

Fred, when one faints, you typically regain consciousness as soon as your head is at or below the level of your heart. Hence, as soon as she dropped (and presumably caught by one of the people in the room) she regained consciousness and saw the women.

Try to focus on the entire story and find some empathy, instead of being critical and nit-picky.

bearhair / June 24, 2009 11:08 PM

Terrifying. I'm glad you got out safely.

Heidi / June 25, 2009 12:59 AM

Thank you so much for telling your story, and telling it so well, including reminding us of all that is best about Iran, as well as all that is worst.

akr / June 25, 2009 1:26 AM

I'm sure the Irish passport helped. I use my Irish passport everywhere except the UK where I use my US passport. And it does make a big difference.

Kevin / June 25, 2009 3:04 AM

Sounds fishy to me. I don't believe it.

If I did believe it I'd be horrified by the naivete of a westerner being so careless in a country in such an obvious state of chaos.

I'm calling baloney on this one.

Paul A'Barge / June 25, 2009 8:31 AM

Thank you for your story Michelle & keep loving Iran :)

Paul, you're the naive one because you're making a judgement without knowing what you're talking about : how life strangely goes on in these situations (even during war actually), how it's always much safer for a Westerner in Iran, how -as Michelle says it perfectly- Iran is full of contradictions, and so full of goodness that it helps to soothe the horror.

an iranina world citizen

Sarvi / June 25, 2009 10:19 AM

Clearly a member of the Irish secret service on a mission to destabilise the country!

PJ Tharsaile / June 25, 2009 10:51 AM

Actually, Paul is right. She was an American/Irish in a country whose government always accuse Americans of being enemy of regime. She was talking to a man she did not know after Friday's Khamenei accusations that western countries incite demonstrators. She was seeing that the town was seething with police and basiji. .

The funny thing is that she visited Iran before. She was not only in Iran but she said she loved Iranian people and had a lots of friends in Iran. And Iranian people were always helpfull. So she probably thought that she can complain about internet restrictions and talk to anyone, even to an unknown bearded young man sitting next to her in the internet caffe. . I guess her naivety and her love for Iran blinded her to the dark side of the country. But that is often the case when some westerners fall in love with other countries. All is good and people are wonderful, even police (like in baluchistan) and basiji.

And btw it was not an abduction, it was an arrest, like others of such kinds in other non-democratic countries of the world.

kathy / June 25, 2009 11:41 AM

Where does the picture come from? Does anyone know anything about where it was taken and other information?

Mehregan / June 25, 2009 12:09 PM


Thank you for sharing your story in such detail. What an absolutely harrowing experience, especially in those beginning moments. To actually believe that you were about to die is something that has already changed you for the rest of your life, and I don't mean in a bad way. It will deepen your passions, your wisdom, and your love, things you already had more of than most of us. I celebrate who you are and am thankful that this world will see much more of Michelle May.





Frank Leonard / June 25, 2009 12:12 PM

I can sense the terror behind all this. Glad you are safe, and may God help the Iranian people overturn this great evil.

Paul B. / June 25, 2009 12:14 PM

Kathy, it WAS an abduction bc Basij are illegitimate, illegal, paramilitary force accountable not to Iran and its people but only to the Supreme Liar the murderer. That makes ALL these acts and deeds by these thug robots lawless abductions and crimes against humanity and one day these monsters and their vile to the core employers WILL pay for what they have done.

parivash / June 25, 2009 12:25 PM

Such a delicate flower. Better I think if you stay home in the future

Ming the Merciless Siamese Cat / June 25, 2009 1:35 PM

Funny how Bush, who I think is a moron, is being proven right. This is truly an "evil" regime.

Jim / June 25, 2009 5:53 PM

Jim -

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are clearly evil, but Iran did have a much saner President when Bush started using that phrase. Khatami is no saint either, but he's not evil.

Howard / June 25, 2009 10:20 PM

How can you people say Bush was proven right? DOES ANYONE NOT GET IT ????

THe US instigated by the Zionists was about to attack Iran thinking the country shared the views of its currently president, and now they are finding out they almost attacked a country (IRAN)that was on their side (US) the whole time. There is a disconnect between the govt. and its people. The question is, is this the only time that the zionists have taken action without first finding out if they are attacking the right enemy ? Or are they acting worse than the nazis.

Rob Francis / June 27, 2009 2:34 PM

I feel so saddened by this article. i think the people of Iran have always been liberated, educated and democratic.

Fashion, education , agriculture technological advances and engineering flows in the Iranian blood stream, yet they are supressed and treated like nothing.

I can not believe the propaganda the Iranian government is using.. i cant not believe they are staring at ourface and saying the sky is not blue the USA makes it looks blue but it is in fact green! hello? how can they bluntly be such liers...

The UN/ Amnesty/ Internatial Community needs to intervene looks like Iranian government is about to pull a blanket over what happened and people are scared for their lives to do more protests etc... they went on the streets fr two weeks come on .. they havent changed their minds.. they just need supprt not a twitter message but a government ... Iraq had long term issues but not overnight violence for two weeks when US intervened... the Taliban wasnt as bad as the emmediate threat... ppl were used to that life... and the US intervened... iranian ppl are different they are modern, they are not backwards and they are asking for change,,. which means they will support it.. not resist like in afghanistan and iraq qith suiceide bombs.. we are not goat herders... we know what democracy feels like we did have it 30 years ago at least we had a taste of it ..

An Armenian Iranian / June 27, 2009 9:23 PM