Iranian journalist from Zarif's team defects

Amir Tohid Fazel, Iranian state journalist and political editor of the Iranian Mowj News Agency, who accompanied foreign minister Mohammed Zarif during his European tour, sought political asylum in Sweden on Aug. 21, 2019. Fazel was the first reporter to publish a list of dual nationals in the Iranian government, an issue that irritates President Hassan Rouhani.

In an interview with Swedish national broadcaster SVT, Fazel claimed asylum because a colleague from Tehran warned him that four Iranian plainclothes agents had visited his office with an arrest warrant.

Fazel said "he had published a list of 'very prominent members of the Iranian government who have dual citizenship or permanent residency of countries that the government considers an enemy of Iran, such as the US, England, and Canada.'"

He told the reporters:

"On Wednesday morning ... I was able to deceive the Zarif's team of correspondents and run away. Except for The 48 secret agents who were focused on our activities there were Iranian secret agents around the city, for example, on either side of the hotel and, near the shops around the hotel… It was very difficult to escape this security ring.

"In Sweden, due to the popular protests against Zarif's visit, the atmosphere was better. on Wednesday morning we went to have breakfast. At one point, I heard that a security officer told his colleague to take all the reporters with a van, to the lecture room where Zarif had an interview and then to the embassy, and finally take them straight to the airport.

"I had handed over my luggage, and I had only one backpack with one or two warm clothes on, I begged them to let me have a smoke. Every time I wanted to smoke they told me: What are you doing? Why you smoke many times? I ask them to let me smoke a cigarette behind the van. And they stared at me. But at the moment I reached behind the van I started running and didn't look behind me. I was scared along the way, every moment I felt like someone was behind me. They constantly ringing on my cellphone with the SIM card that the embassy had given me. I stopped for a moment and took the SIM card out of my cellphone and threw it away and continued on my way. I got a taxi and begged him to take me to the police station, where I applied for asylum. Since his escape, Fazel's wife has been dismissed from her job and his child has experienced difficulties registering for school," he said.

"It has been very difficult on my family," he added.

Later, Maryam Salari, an Iranian diplomatic correspondent who accompanied Zarif on this tour, tweeted:

The scattered presence of a number of MEK members at the scene in Sweden was of great concern to the embassy team members, who were constantly urging reporters to travel inside the city.

It is worth mentioning that in his visits to Scandinavia and France, Minister Zarif was attempting to loosen the noose around the neck of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As seen in each and every stop he made, supporters of the Iranian opposition group People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) held rallies in FinlandSwedenNorway, and France protesting his visit and denouncing him as a terrorist.

Iran ranked 170th in Reporters Without Borders' 2019 World Press Freedom Index, making it one of the worst countries for press freedom.

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