Christiane looks at the disqualification of candidates from next month's presidential election in Iran.
By Lucky Gold
“I was asleep when Debbie woke me up telling me there’s a boarding party arriving. And the next thing she said – it’s pirates.”
So began the gripping narrative of Bruno Pelizarri and Deborah Calitz, a South African couple kidnapped off the coast of Tanzania by Somali pirates back in October 2010, and only freed last week after nearly two years of intense negotiations.
Now back in Pretoria, South Africa, they appeared Thursday on CNN's Amanpour – their first interview since being released. Bruno recounted the terrifying moment when he had to face the pirates: “What do you do? What do you say?” Somehow remaining calm, he “put a pair of jeans on and went on deck to face them.”
“It felt like it was a dream,” said Deborah. “It wasn’t real. There was more fear in their (the pirates’) eyes than we had.”
In a bizarre role reversal, Deborah and Bruno found themselves trying to calm the pirates: “If they panic, they can shoot,” said Deborah. “So we told them don’t worry, everything’s fine. We’re sitting down, just relax, you’re going to be okay. We’re not going to fight you…There was no time to be scared.”
It was like being on death row
But fear would come as they were held hostage for twenty months, while the pirates demanded a huge ransom.
“Can you imagine being put in a cell, worse than a prison,” said Bruno, describing their confinement. “Death threats hanging over your head all the time.”
“We were treated like untouchables,” added Deborah. “We were humiliated; we were degraded. They psychologically tortured us.”
Elaborating on that torture, she said, “They would come in early hours of the morning, and shine a light in our faces. They wouldn’t say a word; they would just stare at us. We asked them what, what do you want? They’d just look at us and then they’d walk out, and then they’d come with sticks and bang outside the door, and then they’d cock their rifles. We didn’t know if they would kill us; they wouldn’t tell us anything.”
Eventually, the pirates made their intentions known: “They wanted money; if they didn’t have money they would kill us. So cold.”
The dictionary hasn’t got the words for it
Bruno’s sister Vera made phone contact with the pirates, who were asking for millions in ransom. Bruno tried to tell them, “We’re not celebrities. We are just workers. Just normal citizens.”
More months went by, as their family, along with the governments of South Africa, Italy and Somalia worked behind the scenes for their release. But Deborah and Bruno wouldn’t let themselves hope for rescue, having been fooled by their captors “so many times before.”
Asked if they ever thought they would die as captives, Deborah admitted, “Maybe. We were never sure. It was like being on death row. I understand what it feels like to be on death row. It’s terrible. It’s like a nightmare. It didn’t seem real.”
But eventually they were released, though for now they won’t discuss the details. And with their freedom has come “a new life,” said Bruno. “I’m a new person.”
Deborah agreed: “We’ll never be the same again. It’s changed our life forever.”
“The dictionary hasn’t got the words for it,” said Bruno. “I think we need new words in it.”
CNN’s Juliet Fuisz produced this piece for television.