LONDON: Nicholas Pelham, The Economist’s Middle East correspondent, was paying his bill at a Tehran hotel in July 2019 when he was detained.
Pelham — who had acquired a rare journalist’s visa to Iran after three years of applying — had arrived in the country during a period of heightened tensions between Tehran and London.
An Iranian judge gave authority for him to be detained and questioned for 48 hours, but Pelham could not leave Iran for seven weeks.
He was kept under strict limitations after Iran seized a British-linked oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, which prompted a dramatic escalation in regional tensions.
Pelham said his trip before the detention was unsuccessful. None of the interview requests that he submitted were cleared, despite him being given press accreditation.
“Iran is pretty much unique in that it not only provides a minder who is supposed to be with you 24 hours a day, but you also have to pay for the privilege for his presence,” he told The Economist Asks podcast, which was published on Tuesday.
“This is a minder who isn’t just there to make sure that you don’t slip up, but also to make sure that anyone you interview doesn’t slip up. They make it clear to any interlocutor that they’re vetting conversations.”
Pelham said the men who detained him checked his phones, laptop and notebooks. He told the podcast that he was reunited with his belongings at the airport, but was then taken into a separate room away from the departures lounge and was introduced to a man called “the doctor,” who revealed himself to be his interrogator for the next two and a half weeks.
After the conclusion of his interrogation, he was blindfolded and driven out of the airport, where he was taken to an office for another round of questioning. He was later freed, but was not allowed to leave the country.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday described Pelham’s detention as “a worrying development in Tehran’s strategy of hostage-taking.”