An Iranian cameraman traveling with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his recent visit to the United Nations General Assembly defected last week and is now seeking political asylum in the United States, the man's lawyer, Paul O'Dwyer told Turtle Bay.
Hassan Gol Khanban, a long time videographer for the Iranian National News Agency who frequently traveled with the president, went into hiding after the Iranian delegation left New York on Thursday, according to O'Dwyer.
O'Dwyer said Khanban's wife and two young children have also left Iran for a third country and that he is trying to arrange for them to come to the United States.
"He is seeking political asylum on behalf of his belief, and obviously the fact that he defected makes him automatically an enemy of the regime," O'Dwyer said. He was "opposed to how the regime treats people, the level of repression that exists there."
Khanban traveled to the United States on a G-2 diplomatic visa to cover Ahmadinejad's eighth and final visit as president to New York, where he delivered a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, conducted multiple interviews, and gave a press conference with American journalists, editors, and publishers.
The defection provided an embarrassing bookend to a visit in which Ahmadinejad had sought to portray Iran's success in challenging America's dominance on the world stage. In a series of statements, the Iranian leader denounced the United States as a belligerent warmonger that had wreaked havoc in the Middle East with its military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. But there was no indication that Khanban would turn out to be a major intelligence coup for the United States.
O'Dwyer said that his client was sufficiently "trusted" by the government to be allowed to travel with the president but that he wasn't "like a policy maker or a policy advisor. He was there to shoot video."
O'Dwyer also said that his client had differed with the Iranian delegation during the visits when they instructed him to "film stuff" that wasn't apparently related to his journalistic duties. O'Dwyer was unwilling to provide any specifics on what he was asked to film.
However, it appears that Khanban may have already been planning to flee Iran before he arrived -- he had arranged for his family to get out of the country before he filed his claim for asylum, which was first reported by the New York Daily News.
O'Dwyer declined to say where Khanban, who is in his forties, is staying "out of concern for his safety.
The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.