An Azadi Square Campaign Success and a Chastening Reminder Why We Do This

The second anniversary of Iran’s disputed presidential elections passed on Sunday June 12 without a major public observance in Iran. After having been brutally suppressed by Iran’s security forces, Iranians have not been able to engage in the massive protests of two summers ago. Some of the most memorable of those demonstrations took place in Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square.

Although the citizens of Tehran have been too terrorized to return to Azadi Square to exercise their rights, activists outside of Iran continue to demonstrate their solidarity by holding their own actions in public spaces that they have renamed “Azadi Square” for the occasion.

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Hollywood Unites for Iranian Filmmakers

Paul Haggis hands off Amnesty petition to Iran mission representative on June 8, 2011. © AI

World-renowned Iranian film director and peace activist, Jafar Panahi, and his artistic collaborator, Mohammad Rasoulof continue to face an uncertain future. Both men were charged with “propaganda against the state” in December, 2010, and sentenced to six years in jail.

Their lives have been in limbo for the past five months as each day carries with it the dreaded possibility of starting this lengthy period of incarceration. Panahi also received a 20-year ban on filmmaking, traveling abroad, and speaking with the media, which has been in effect since the sentencing.

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Hollywood Greats Join Amnesty to Express Outrage Over Panahi Sentence

Jafar Panahi

One week after the astonishing news that Iranian cinematic giant Jafar Panahi had been handed a harsh prison sentence and an unprecedented twenty-year total ban on his artistic activities, Mr. Panahi’s colleagues and admirers around the world have spearheaded a concerted effort to overturn the travesty of justice that has been inflicted on him. Academy Award winners Paul Haggis and Sean Penn, along with film producer and movie studio chairman Harvey Weinstein, have joined forces with actress and Amnesty International USA spokesperson Nazanin Boniadi to condemn the shocking sentence imposed on Mr. Panahi. Mr. Haggis is also encouraging members of the film community to wear white ribbons prominently during upcoming awards ceremonies and other public events as a symbol of protest. So far their effort has been supported by renowned film directors Martin Scorsese, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Lina Wertmuller, Iranian pop singer Googoosh, by Iranian-American journalist and former prisoner of conscience Roxana Saberi, and by Amnesty International’s distinguished human rights movement colleagues Hadi Ghaemi and Rudi Bakhtiar of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Paul Haggis, who is the founder of Artists for Peace and Justice, stated, “If this happened to me, I would hope my colleagues would speak out in my name, as we are compelled to speak out in Jafar’s.  I urge the Iranian authorities to overturn Mr. Panahi’s inhumane and unjust sentence. I ask that people across the world join Sean Penn, Harvey Weinstein and myself in signing the Amnesty International petition calling for the immediate reversal of the sentence against Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof [Mr. Panahi’s artistic collaborator, also sentenced to six years in prison].”

Our goal is to encourage thousands of people to add their own names to the growing list of petition signers. Please show your support for Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof and the right to freedom of expression by taking this easy action.  Another great way to generate interest would be hold viewings of one of Jafar Panahi’s great films –“Badkonak-e Sefid (White Balloon), “Dayareh” (Circle), for which he won the Golden Lion at the 2000 Venice Film Festival, “Talayeh Sorkh” (Crimson Gold), or “Offside”—at your school, university, Amnesty International group meeting, or just a gathering for friends. Please take pictures of the gathering and send it to Amnesty International and also please use the opportunity to gather signatures for the Panahi/Rasoulof petition. And Amnesty International is always excited to hear about creative activism—if you have an ideas, please contact kscott@aiusa.org.

Jafar Panahi’s films are banned in his own country—a tragedy as Mr. Panahi has repeatedly expressed his love for his country and his desire to stay in Iran to make his films there. We are looking forward to many more of this great artist’s beautiful films in the future. Let’s do what we can to make sure he can make them.

Distinguished Iranian Film Director Jafar Panahi Receives Preposterous Sentence

Jafar Panahi

Jafar Panahi is one of the most acclaimed film directors in the world. Admirers like myself were horrified and astonished at the news, announced yesterday, that Jafar Panahi had been sentenced not only to six years in prison, but to an unimaginable twenty-year total ban on all his artistic activities—including film making, script writing, traveling outside the country and speaking with the media.

He was convicted by a Revolutionary Court of “propaganda against the system” for having exercised his right to peaceful freedom of expression through his film-making and political activism. He was specifically accused of making an anti-government film without permission and inciting opposition protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election. Mr. Panahi’s artistic collaborator, Mohammad Rasoulof, was also sentenced to six years in prison.

Jafar Panahi is the director of such masterpieces of Iranian cinema as “Badkonake Sefid” (White Balloon), “Dayareh” (Circle), for which he won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, “Talayeh Sorkh” (Crimson Gold), and “Offside.” He was detained in Evin Prison in Tehran for nearly three months following his arrest at his home on 1 March 2010. While in prison he carried out a hunger strike to protest his degrading treatment, including being forced to stand outside in the cold with no clothing. He was invited to be a judge at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010 but was in detention during the entire festival. His absence was recognized by the presence of an empty chair meant for him in prominent view on the stage throughout the festival.

For those who are as outraged as I am, I strongly encourage you to take action immediately to protest this travesty of justice to the Iranian authorities. If only this were an isolated case, but sadly, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof are two more (albeit prominent) victims of a vicious and unrelenting campaign by the Iranian government to stamp out any dissenting voices—whether they be artistic, political, journalistic, advocacy or academic. In response, Amnesty International is pursuing its own campaign to highlight the cases of prisoners of conscience languishing in Iran.

While speaking at his trial in Tehran in November, Jafar Panahi said, “I, Jafar Panahi, declare once again that I am an Iranian, I am staying in my country and I like to work in my own country. I love my country, I have paid a price for this love too, and I am willing to pay again if necessary.” Would that the authorities in Iran recognized Jafar Panahi for the distinction and honor he brings his country.

Prominent Iranian Film Director Jafar Panahi Held for Months Without Charge

Jafar Panahi

Jafar Panahi

Film lovers all over the world admire the many masterpieces of Iranian cinema. One of Iran’s most acclaimed film directors, Jafar Panahi, has won numerous awards including the coveted “Golden Lion” from the Venice Film Festival and he has been invited to this year’s Cannes Film Festival which opens tomorrow, 12 May. Unfortunately, the government of Iran seems to regard Mr. Panahi not as a great national treasure and source of pride but as a great danger, and has locked him up in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, without charge, for more than two months.

Jafar Panahi’s films have been described as “social realist” and often provide a critique of the treatment of women and other disadvantaged people in Iranian society. His first feature “Badkonake Sefid” (White Balloon) used non-professional actors to tell the ostensibly simple story of a small girl attempting to buy a goldfish for her family’s Nowruz (Iranian New Year) celebration. “Dayareh” (Circle), for which he won the Golden Lion, is a film comprised of interlocked tales about several socially marginalized women struggling through challenging circumstances that reveal the oppression of women. In “Talayeh Sorkh” (Crimson Gold) a Tehran  pizza deliveryman gradually unravels as he encounters indifference and condescension. Mr. Panahi’s 2006 movie “Offside” combines humor with social criticism in a story about some girls who disguise themselves as boys so they can attend a soccer match, which is off-limits to female spectators.

Several of his films have been banned in Iran but are his films the reason for his imprisonment? The Iranian government has yet to charge him with any crime, although on 14 April 2010, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance said that Jafar Panahi had been arrested because he was making an anti-government film about the disputed presidential election of 2009. After a brief detention in July 2009 for having taken part in an event mourning the killing of post-election protester Neda Agha-Soltan, He was banned from travelling abroad, including to the 2009 Berlin Film Festival in which he was due to participate.

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