Michelle May is an American and Irish national who was detained in Tehran this past Saturday during the election aftermath. She shared her experience with CNN’s "American Morning" live from Dubai Wednesday.
Kiran Chetry: So you had quite an interesting and at times terrifying experience in Tehran. This was your third trip to Iran. Tell us what happened when you went and what happened.
Michelle May: Kiran, I went because I had been there two times before and I feel very connected to the country and the people there. I have a lot of friends. So when I was watching the election, the run-up to the election and the election results, I just felt a real need to be there with my friends and I just wanted to be a part of what could possibly be history. So I made arrangements at the last minute.
Chetry: You had an Irish passport and you arrived days before those protests started. Explain what happened when you said you were riding in a cab. Your taxi was stopped, you were pulled from that taxi and you were questioned.
May: Yes. I was in a net cafe prior to that and this young man befriended me. I was trying to download CNN to find out – this is the day after the Ayatollah gave his prayer on Friday – I was trying to read about it on CNN and he was trying to help me. So he helped me hail a taxi to meet a friend for lunch. About half-an-hour into that ride the next thing I know, there are two motorbikes on either side of my taxi. He's on the back of one of them and three Basij guys are on the other and they pulled me over and I knew what was happening.
Of course I was terrified and I immediately started screaming saying "No, no, no." He got into the taxi, the one who spoke English, and he told me I need to get out and go with them and so I stood up to get out of the taxi, but then I thought I’ll make a scene on the street, maybe they'll leave me alone. However, that didn't work. I think because everyone's just terrified of the Basij right now. So they took me by either arm and they put me into a car that had pulled up. Then I was with them for a little bit over an hour.
Chetry: You were just trying to explain to them that all were you doing was just trying to find out some information about what was going on. At the same time, they were wondering or accusing you of possibly spying and you went through this back-and-forth for quite some time, terrified. At what point did you realize that you were going to be okay, that they were actually going to let you go?
May: Well, it was when after an hour we drove by a police station and there were about 50 policemen out there wearing uniforms and I actually trust police there. So I banged on the window and the guy next to me, the one who spoke English said, "Okay, we'll stop." And after a half an hour, they brought me into the police station where I was questioned there. And I had a pretty good idea at that time that everything was going to be okay. Because they really had nothing on me. I'm not a terrorist, I’m not a spy so they really had nothing to go on.
Chetry: They recommended that you leave, go to Dubai, which you did. Maybe many of us don't realize the lengths that people are going to and the risks people are putting themselves through to even go out there on the street to protest and to even record and send information so that everyone else in the world can see what's going on right now. What is that like to experience?
May: They are extremely brave. I don't even know how they're doing it, because honestly everyone I know there is just scared and they wouldn't - at this point the way things are since last Friday, I don't know anyone who's actually going out and protesting.
So those people who are, like I said, they know that they're risking their lives but they are so fed up that they're willing to do that. So there is definitely a very tense feeling on the streets there. Like I said, the day that I was there, Saturday, there actually weren't that many people on the streets which is pretty rare. It's definitely a scary time. It is a very strange time, very different than how it normally is there.
Chetry: Thanks for letting us know a little bit more about what it's like there and telling us your first-hand account. I'm glad that everything worked out for you.