By Nazanin Boniadi and Roxana Saberi
Nazanin Boniadi is an actress, activist and spokesperson for Amnesty International USA. Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist, author and human rights advocate. www.roxanasaberi.com
Behrouz with his newborn son, Harmang.
The imprisonment of Iranian filmmaker Behrouz Ghobadi appears to be the latest attempt by Iran’s regime to silence the country’s artists. Hollywood has united with Amnesty International to call for his release; now others can join them by sending a message of concern to Iran’s supreme leader.
Behrouz, a younger brother of exiled Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi, was arrested on November 4 in western Iran. Since then, he has had no contact with either his family or an attorney. His family has asked the Iranian authorities for information, but no one has told them why or where he is detained.
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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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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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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 [email protected].
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.