The Iranian dissident stuck in a COVID limbo

Omid Tootian is an Iranian dissident who has fallen foul of politics - and COVID restrictions - in Cyprus.

The musician, and critic of Tehran, fled his homeland for Turkey four years ago - where he says he still feared for his safety.

"Then, I was living in Turkey. I was in Turkey for these past four years, but in recent months, I received threats over the phone, but on a private number. The threats ramped up, so I said 'OK, I'm leaving here, but my work continues'. And I'm not afraid of death or anything, but I don't want to die for nothing either. I will leave, go to another safe place, and continue my work."

From there, Tootian traveled to ethnically split Cyprus - where he became embroiled in local geopolitics.

A war split the island in 1974, dividing it into northern and southern territories.

The Turkish Cypriot north is a statelet, recognized only by Ankara.

The Greek Cypriot south, however, is backed by the international community.

In between the two lies a U.N-controlled buffer zone, where Tootian has been stranded since mid-September - pitching his tent in the garden of a home abandoned in the war.

The corridor is about 500 meters wide and runs through the capital.

A crossing point opened in 2003 allowing movement between the two sides.

But the coronavirus outbreak effectively sealed it shut again in February.

Now, the Greek Cypriot side only lets locals through, citing coronavirus restrictions.

Tootian says he tested negative for COVID-19, but was turned away multiple times.

Should he return to the north, he fears deportation to Turkey and, from there, back to Iran.

"I have no choice. I will either stay here or they will take me in, there is no other option."

The UN's refugee agency said they had raised Tootian's plight with local authorities.

The Cypriot interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Video Transcript

- Omid Tootian is an Iranian dissident who has fallen foul of politics, and COVID restrictions, in Cyprus. The musician, and critic of Tehran, fled his homeland for Turkey four years ago, where he says he still feared for his safety.

OMID TOOTIAN: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: Then I was living in Turkey. I was in Turkey for these past four years. But in recent months, I received threats over the phone, but on a private number. The threats ramped up, so I said, "OK, I'm leaving here, but my work continues." And I'm not afraid of death or anything, but I don't want to die for nothing either. I will leave, go to another safe place, and continue my work.

- From there, Tootian traveled to ethnically split Cyprus, where he became embroiled in local geopolitics. A war split the island in 1974, dividing it into northern and southern territories. The Turkish Cypriot North is a statelet, recognized only by Ankara. The Greek Cypriot South, however, is backed by the international community. In between the two lies a UN-controlled buffer zone, where Tootian has been stranded since mid-September, pitching his tent in the garden of a home abandoned in the war.

The corridor is about 500 meters wide and runs through the capital. A crossing point opened in 2003, allowing movement between the two sides. But the coronavirus outbreak effectively sealed it shut again in February. Now, the Greek Cypriot side only lets locals through, citing coronavirus restrictions. Tootian says he tested negative for COVID-19, but was turned away multiple times. Should he returned to the North, he fears deportation to Turkey and, from there, back to Iran.

OMID TOOTIAN: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: I have no choice. I will either stay here, or they will take me in. There's no other option.

- The UN's refugee agency said they had raised Tootian's plight with local authorities. The Cypriot interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment.