Young journalist held in Iran, 'a country I love so much'

By Frank Smyth/CPJ Journalist Security Coordinator on July 2, 2009 5:16 PM ET

Iason Athanasiadis is still a young man at 30, but he's an old school, shoe leather journalist. "Journalism's deepest, most honest contributions inevitably spring from on-the-ground reporting, unencumbered by policy agendas in Washington, London, or other foreign capitals," writes Sandy Tolan, author and University of Southern California journalism professor, today in Salon. "That's what epitomizes the work of my friend and colleague Iason Athanasiadis, and it's why his detention by Iranian authorities, on June 17 when trying to board a flight out of Iran, is so troubling."

Athanasiadis is the kind of photographer whose images illuminate people in unforgettable ways. One image, taken in Iran and posted in a slideshow of his work on Salon, shows a young girl in baby blue sweater and ski cap amid a sea of black-clad women during a celebration of the martyrdom of Shiite Islam's first Imam. Another captures two young men sitting in the stands at a soccer match, each wearing a headband with the green, white, and red colors of Iran, and one wearing a black Metallica T-shirt.

Iason, as he is known to his colleagues and friends, learns about a place and its culture before going to work.  "A year spent living in Damascus, then another year in Cairo, gave me a taste of two of the Arab world's great cultural and political capitals," he writes on his Web site. "In addition, I lived for four-months in Qatar, a rapidly developing emirate on the Persian Gulf." Athanasiadis spent plenty of time in Iran, too.  He's one of few non-Iranians to study Persian and Contemporary Iranian Studies, notes his Web site, at Tehran's School of International Studies.

Like many freelancers, the young journalist writes as well as photographs. And he isn't afraid to put context and perspective into his copy. "Britain's imperial past and expert meddling in Iran's internal affairs" are part of the story, Athanasiadis wrote two years ago in TheFirstPost, an independent online news magazine. He goes on: "In the hard-line lingo of the Islamic Republic, England is the 'old fox of imperialism' and Washington merely its brawny, slightly ignorant servant."

Born in Athens, Athanasiadis has a Greek mother and a British father. Iranian authorities have held him for more than two weeks now. He was detained on June 17 at Tehran airport as he was about to board a plane for Dubai. So far no charges against him have been made public. Greek authorities have been working through diplomatic channels to secure his release.

On Monday, the head of the Greek Orthodox church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spoke on behalf of Athanasiadis, calling him "a member of the Orthodox church."  The patriarch sent the metropolitan emmanuel of France to Iran's General Counsel in Instanbul to "communicate his personal interest in the release of the journalist," according to the Athens News Agency.

Athanasiadis sent an e-mail to his girlfriend hours before he left for the airport, which she shared with CPJ shortly after he was detained.

"It's my last day," he wrote on June 17. "When will I be back? Who knows? I love this country so much."

CPJ continues to work for the release of Iason Athanasiadis along with other journalists--both Iranian and foreign correspondents--detained since June 12 in Iran.

Editor's note: The original version of this entry was modified to correct Sandy Tolan's affiliation.  


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