I had heard many stories about the Komiteh from friends and relatives, stories about how they harass women and young people on the streets, how they break up parties and drag people to jail, holding them there until their parents are forced to come down and beg for their release. And that was only if they were lucky enough to pay a fine and avoid being lashed.
I knew once I decided to come to Iran after 22 years, I would inevitably face the Komiteh in some form. The environment had no doubt improved during Khatami's presidency, but I knew well that events were always unpredictable here. Although I had tried to prepare for it, when it happened I felt completely helpless as I had never lived in Iran and was unskilled at ways to get myself out of such trouble.
It was three in the morning when we left my boyfriend's brother's house. Both of us having recently come to Iran from abroad, neither of us had a car and had not yet adapted to our new environment. We had spent an evening at his brother's house who was on vacation with his wife on the Caspian coast. My boyfriend called for two cabs to come and take each of us home. We debated if it was necessary for him to follow me home, but decided against it.
We left the house together and as I got into my cab, he approached the driver, paid him, and told me to call him when I got home. I leaned back and looked forward to the long drive home and to enjoying Tehran's skyline.
A minute later as we turned into a downhill street, the cab driver while looking in his rear view mirror, said “They are following us, is it okay?”
At first I didn't understand what he meant. I turned around and saw two headlights further up the hill. I thought most likely my boyfriend decided to follow my cab home just to be safe. I was unsure.
“Who's following us?”
“The security forces are following us, is there a problem?”
My heart dropped.
“Don't look back,” he said, and repeated, “Is there a problem?”
“No, what do they want?”
Shit, I thought. I'm all alone, it's 3 a.m., and I'm being chased in Tehran. I tried to stay calm. Different things ran through my mind. What could they prove? Had they seen my boyfriend drive off? Did they see us leave the house together? Will they recognize my American accent?
By then, the green striped four-wheeled drive had pulled up next to us.
“Let me handle this, they've bothered me before, don't worry,” said the cab driver.
He seemed nervous as well. I thought, were they stopping him or me? Did they think we were together? The cars stopped, words were exchanged, he showed the officers his taxi license, and we drove off. PHEW. It was over. But as we pulled into the next street, they pulled us over again.
“They want you to get out of the car now,” said the cab driver.
Immediately and without thinking twice, I stepped out of the car and walked up to their car. In retrospect and according to people I've spoken to here, I should not have gotten out of the car and should have let the cab driver take responsibility for the situation.
The cab driver also got out of his car, but was ordered to get back in the car. Three men sat stuck together, hunched over in the front seat. All three were staring hard at me.
“Yes, what's the problem?”
“Where are you coming from?”
“Mr. Nadimi's house.”
“What relation does he have with you?”
“He's a friend of my father's.”
“Were his parents home?”
“If we go to his house now, will his parents be home?”
I didn't answer.
“Were his parents home?”
“As far as I know, yes, I did not see them myself though. There is no problem here, I was invited to Mr. Nadimi's house, and my family is well aware. I've done nothing wrong, what more do you want to know?”
“We want to know where you were at 3 am, and what relation you have with this person.”
“I've told you, I haven't done anything wrong.”
“I never said you did anything wrong, we must act within the framework of the law, and we want to make sure you haven't broken the law, if we can't confirm, we will have to take you down to the station.”
“I told you, my family is informed of my whereabouts and if you need to confirm that, I would happy to give you the number, now please don't waste my time, do you want the number or not?”
I stood in the middle of the street answering their questions. They seemed bored.
“Would you like the number?” I repeated.
“It is not our responsibility to call your family, it is your responsibility to confirm where you were and with whom.”
Again, more staring at me and silence.
I was confused, what were they waiting for? They either had to take me into custody and call my family, or let me go. Then, it dawned on me. They wanted money. It was obvious by their behavior and words. I had never bribed a security official and wasn't about to do it now. Anyway, my purse was in the taxi.
I don't remember how and why they decided to let me go. They simply said, “Be careful and best of luck.” I couldn't believe it, I was certain they would take me into custody. On the way home, I had to listen to the cab driver level every insult to them, “They're animals, they're not human, they've destroyed this country…” I listened and let him calm me down.
As I recounted the story to my boyfriend that night when I got home, we debated reasons why I was stopped and why they let me go. Perhaps they thought I was a prostitute being out that late and coming home alone, and it would be a sure bribe. Though, once they took a look at me and spoke to me, it was obvious I wasn't (I had no makeup, was dressed very conservatively, and did not offer them a bribe).
My boyfriend also told me that the security officials of the area were on his brother's payroll and that perhaps that was the main reason they let me go. Or , since all they really wanted was money, perhaps they realized I wasn't going to offer them a bribe and decided it was not worth the hassle to actually take me into custody.
Three weeks later, the same Komiteh officials paid a visit to my boyfriend's brother and informed him that they had solved the case of a burglary which had taken place at his house a few months back. They told him that they had concluded that I was his mistress and I was the one who had stolen his wife's jewelry, out of jealousy.
He attempted to convince them that I was not his mistress, but it was no use, the case was closed. However, they did promise not to tell his wife — for a small price.
Government officials in Iran have successfully used the Islamic concept of “amr be ma'rouf” as justification for encouraging people to report the illegal and suspicious activities of others to the authorities.
According to government officials themselves, they have created a “60 million strong intelligence force.” What this means for the average Iranian is that it is all the more important to keep a strong lock on their private lives in order to avoid problems with authorities. It is also the reason why trust has almost but disappeared.
In our five-story building in Tehran, my uncle volunteers as chairman of the board of directors and sees to the management of the building. He has held this rotating position at the request of residents for many years, as he is the only person whose judgment and decision-making is accepted by everyone in the building.
Recently, an apartment on the ground floor was rented to two young girls in their early twenties. They mostly kept to themselves, but after some time, residents noticed that different men had visited the apartment.
A resident and member of the board of directors approached my uncle one day and informed him that he had noticed men coming and leaving the apartment and believed the women were working as prostitutes, and whether or not the board should do anything about it.
My uncle's response was that he disagreed with interfering in other people's personal lives and that it was the women's right to have visitors, despite their nature, since it was their apartment. The man disagreed, but decided to let it go.
Some time passed, more and more residents began to discuss the situation and decided to bring it up again at a meeting to debate whether or not action should be taken. Again, my uncle argued that unless the women were disturbing other residents, the board had no right to take any action against them.
The truth was that many wives, after realizing there may be prostitutes working in the building, feared that their husbands would be tempted to visit them. The women were indirectly informed of the building residents' concern about their activities, but they strongly denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the visitors were relatives.
One day, a female resident left the building through the back door in the parking lot and was approached by a waiting four-wheeled drive vehicle with a man in it who said, “Get in.” She immediately knew she had been mistaken for one of the women and became very upset.
After telling her husband what had happened, her husband became angry and ran outside to confront the individual. He noticed it was a vehicle he had seen many times before parked near the building. He decided enough was enough and that he would take independent action if necessary.
A group of residents approached my uncle and told him that due to the fact that the situation had become to disturbing, they planned to tell the police. At that point, my uncle knew he could no longer prevent them from going ahead and telling the authorities.
Together, the group of male residents went to the local police station and filed a report. To their surprise, the officer filing the report was rather short and non-chalante with them about the whole affair. Normally, more appreciation would be shown as this is exactly the kind of information authorities wish to be provided with. “Thank you very much, we'll take it from here, you don't worry about these things, just go,” he said.
The men left the station confused. On the way to the car, one of them noticed in an adjacent lot where official police cars were parked the same four-wheeled drive with the same license plate which was seen around the building and whose driver mistook a female resident of the building for one of the girls accused of working as prostitutes.
After putting two and two together, the men realized the situation they better forget the whole affair. Less than a week later and without prior notice, the women quietly moved out of their apartment.
An insider to the story revealed that these young women worked as prostitutes and were cooperating with the authorities. The women had made a deal to earn cash by providing sexual services without the danger of being prosecuted. It worked to each party's advantage. The authorities, on the other hand, had secured a steady source of income through illegal entrapment and profiteering.
The shady deal required the girls to report to the authorities any rich or otherwise important customers earlier so that a trap was set for them during their rendezvous with the girls. Once police apprehended the perpetrators, the majority offered hefty amounts to avoid prosecution.
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