By The Free Iranian Staff
Yulia Yuzik, the Russian journalist who was arrested in Iran, accused of spying for Israel, and released after a week, believes her release came as a result of Vladimir Putin’s, the Russian president, mediation.
Putin did this in spite of the fact that Yuzik is a Kremlin critic, and was nominated by the Russian opposition to run for a seat in the Russian Parliament, the Duma.
The 38-year-old Yuzik works for various media outlets, and has written two books: “Requiem for Beslan,” about terrorist activities in Northern Ossetia; and “Brides of Allah,” about women suicide bombers, which has been translated into nine languages but is banned in Russia.
Ms. Yuzik, in an interview with Anna Rayskaya of Radio Farda, said that she first went to Iran in 2017 at the invitation of “Iran Today,” the Islamic Regime’s Russian language TV network, and that her recent trip to Iran was also at the invitation of her former boss at “Iran Today.”
When and how did you become interested in Iran?
I have worked in Chechnya, Daghestan, and the other Muslim regions of the Caucasus, and I found these countries interesting. I have positive memories from my first trips to Iran, this country is like no other, and I liked it with all my heart. There is a saying: irrational love, which means you connect through your heart to something, without logic or reason. I always thought that my fondness for Iran was mutual, and that the people who received me in Iran were as honest towards me as I was with them.
Maybe it’s the differences between the Western culture and theirs, someone who is brought up in the West tends to express themselves clearly, so he or she couldn’t believe that saying one thing and doing another thing is common in the “Eastern” culture. Maybe I was naïve, and I didn’t sense the danger in time. There is a saying in Russian, “love is blind,” and I was in love with Iran.
Can you explain your work in Iran?
I wrote a letter to the Russian embassy in Iran about six years ago, in which I introduced myself and my books, and I told them that I wanted to write a book about Iran. My letter was well received, and they set up a trip for me, which was very positive and memorable.
I gave a speech at Tehran University’s Caucasus Institute, which had formally invited me. After that, I made other trips to Iran, and I have good memories of them.
In the summer of 2017, the TV network Iran Today TV asked me to work for them. At first, I wanted to take my children to Iran and live there for a while, because, with my opposition to the Kremlin and the banning of my books, job opportunities in Russia were very limited. Every time I left Iran, I carried with me this strong soul connection to the country that made me want to return again and again.
Did you encounter any problems during your trips to Iran?
I even couldn’t imagine that Iranian officials would interrogate me, or question me. Last autumn, for the first time, when I was leaving the airport, they held me there for twenty hours. They interrogated me, searched my personal belongings, decoded my laptop and cellphone, but they apologized later, and said that there were suspicions that had been cleared up, and that I didn’t have any problems with regard to returning to Iran.
And then you went back to Iran, please explain this unfortunate visit:
Over the past two years, I’ve received invitations from many different people there, proposing to write books, make films, and other job opportunities that I didn’t accept. I went back only because of an invitation from my former boss, whom I trusted and respected as a father, and he knew that I had a difficult surgery the following month, and so I decided to go back to Iran again.
He insisted that I forget the bad memories from the last trip, and he assured me that there would be no problems. I believed him, bought a ticket, and went there.
If I had a visa problem, they should have deported me, isn’t that so? But they charged me $80 for a visa in the airport, and when I was clearing the customs, they told me they needed to have my passport. I asked in English “what’s the problem?” they didn’t answer, until one of them said that “you have to speak Farsi in Iran.”
After a while, they brought the person who had invited me and was supposed to pick me up at the airport, he talked to the agents, and then explained that because of the last year’s problem, the computer had issued a red flag, but that it was a technical problem, and I could retrieve my passport the next day at a government office in Tehran.
I insisted that I couldn’t do this, and that I wanted to return to Russia, but they told me that I had no choice. The next day, and two days later, I went to the government office, but they didn’t return my passport. They interrogated me for five, six hours, but they didn’t prevent me from moving around in Tehran. My host was with me everywhere, even in the Bazaar, so I could buy souvenirs for my children; in fact, he prevented me from contacting the Russian consulate.
I was very worried the night of the third day, when they took me to the hotel. I noticed that the hotel’s lobby was empty, but I thought I was being paranoid. Then, a few minutes later, a woman who was three times my size, a few men, and the same IRGC interrogator who was with them, stormed my room. I was told that I was under arrest, and that I would know why the next day, in court.
They took me out of the hotel, put me in a car, and we drove with other cars with their sirens on. Then, they put a black sack over my head, and took me to a place that was possibly a prison or detention center.
When did you learn your charges?
The next morning, a security guard took me to the judge; the judge put some papers in front of me, and the guard pointed to where I should sign. I told them that I would not sign anything. They took me back to the prison, and returned me to the court two hours later. This time, an old lady who understood very little Russian was introduced to me as my interpreter, and she told me that I was charged with espionage for Israel and Israeli intelligence agencies.
The Iranian government announced that your case was not related to the counter-espionage agency, and different probabilities were mentioned in the media regarding your arrest; among them were charges of supporting Wahhabis and having extremist believes, and of being romantically involved with a former Iranian diplomat. However, in your interview with Radio Free Europe’s Russian Service, you mentioned that your arrest was probably related to the reported defection of IRGC Brigadier General Ali Nasiri, please explain more…
I heard his name for the first time two years ago, they warned me that I might be under surveillance. I had a Facebook page offering Middle East news analysis, and I also included news from Israel. I was one of the first journalists in Russia to report the news of the IRGC commander’s possible defection.
I am now sure that Iran’s intelligence agencies have access to all of my writings, and if the news of the IRGC commander’s defection was fake, and if he still held his position in Iran, then it’s not far-fetched that he orchestrated my arrest, but I’m not sure if it’s really the case.
Your colleague at Radio Free Europe’s Russian Service asked me, and I answered.
You have always opposed the Kremlin, but the Kremlin expressed their dissatisfaction with your arrest, and the Russian foreign ministry put a lot of effort into gaining your freedom. As a hardcore Kremlin dissenter, was it strange to you? Why do you think that the Russian government defended you, regardless of your political orientation?
It was very strange and very good. Maybe it was the first time that I felt proud when I returned to Moscow. Maybe Iranian intelligence agencies thought that because I’m a dissenter, the Kremlin would thank them for arresting me. But then, I realized that even the Russian president was aware of my situation when I watched the Kremlin’s spokesperson, and the Russian president definitely had an important role in returning me to my homeland, and I am grateful for that.
I’m also grateful to all those who defended me, they protested outside the Iranian embassy in Moscow, signed my freedom petition, and did not allow my death in silence.
Such support and protests are extremely crucial and necessary. I know that the prisoners and their families are usually under pressure, to make them remain silent, but this is a mistake. No one will ever leave prison if there is no protest. On the other hand, it’s very unlikely that social dissent will influence the IRGC.
I am confident that the decision concerning me was taken at the highest levels, and perhaps due to the friendly relationship between Russia and Iran, they chose to do what they normally don’t.
Is it possible that someday you’ll visit Iran again?
No, never. When they took me to the airport, I didn’t know if they were transferring me to another prison, or if they wanted to execute me. I constantly asked myself, why has this country treated me like this? The IRGC agents accused me of taking too many trips to Iran, as if no ordinary person can take several trips to Iran. It’s as if they consider it impossible to love Iran and enjoy visiting that country.
I loved Iran very much, but the IRGC ruined that feeling.