Asharq Al-Awsat – Angeles Espinosa has been working in Middle East for the past 20 years. She is a correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El Pais and has been based in Iran since 2006. Espinosa was the only Spanish journalist to interview the former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami during his last visit to Spain and she has covered events and wars in the Middle East throughout her long career.
Q) How have the elections affected your work?
A) There has been a lot of tension because there is an increase in our work and in addition there are many technical and professional difficulties in accessing information.
Q) After having lived in the region for 20 years, would you say that this is the most dangerous period of your career in the past two decades?
A) No. This is an important moment, which will be remembered in the future, but I have experienced more dangerous periods such as the Lebanese Civil War, the three Iraqi wars, Afghanistan…I don’t feel any physical danger at all at least not now.
Q) How do foreign correspondents work under such circumstances?
A) There are not many of us in Tehran, maybe twelve Western journalists. The situation depends on your media. Now cameramen and photographers cannot practically work in the streets. It is easier for print journalists. The difference between now and ten days ago is that, officially, we are not allowed to report on the streets or cover any events uninvited but I can use the phone and call whoever I want.
Q) The government of Iran has restricted some foreign journalists; are you worried about censorship?
A) I have never suffered from this in Iran, in the sense of my articles first requiring approval. I was working normally until last Tuesday when I received a fax from the [Iranian] government forbidding me from covering protests that have not been authorized by the Ministry of Interior. Now I will see how I can deal with that. However, my work has not changed. Regarding the expulsions, as far as I know, none of the permanent correspondents have been sent away. The government refused to renew visas for the journalists who came here to cover the elections.
Q) Have you had to withhold any information in order to remain in the country?
A) I have never withheld any piece of news that I believed was important and in the way that I considered most suitable. It is true that I have never insulted a leader because this is not my way of doing things nor is it the newspaper’s way of doing things.
Q) Is your job any more difficult because you are a woman?
A) Not at all. I have never been refused an interview with an official or some important person because I’m a woman, even with current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is more conservative than the former president.
Q) What or who are your most reliable sources in a situation like this?
A) The most reliable sources are people who I have been working with for a long time, people whose personal backgrounds I know. Everyday, their number reduces because some of them are now in prison and others are worried about the situation and they do not want to be associated with foreign journalists out of fear of being accused of spying.
Q) Do you think that anything is changing in Iran?
A) The people are changing. There has been an important generational change. New generations all over the region are realizing that they are living under autocratic systems. They realize that they have fewer rights than the rest of the world and they want to have a say in how their countries are run. Many try this through Islamism. But in Iran, where they already had an Islamic revolution, they are fighting against the established Islamism.