Friday, May 28, 2010

Jafar Panahi released

Jafar Panahi released

Solidarity works, says Jim Moody

On Tuesday last (May 25), the Iranian regime bowed to growing worldwide pressure over its imprisonment of film director Jafar Panahi and released him on 200 million rials (£14,000) bail. However, he still faces serious charges brought by the regime following gigantic, militant protests over last year’s rigged presidential elections. But at least Iran’s vicious clerics were forced to let Panahi out of the vile Evin prison where he has languished alongside other political prisoners since his arrest in March. Panahi’s release is an encouragement to all those campaigning for democratic rights in Iran in solidarity with its people.

Juliette Binoche took Jafar Panahi’s case to the world stage last weekend by holding his name in front of her as she received the best actress award.[1] Previously both the Cannes film festival and the French government had condemned Panahi’s imprisonment by Iran’s regime, which had prevented him from taking up his place on the festival jury. Tim Burton, head of the Cannes jury, left Panahi’s chair empty throughout the festival in protest.

In Britain and Ireland solid campaigning work by Hands Off the People of Iran[2] to release Panahi has been vindicated. Ever since he was detained over two months ago, Hopi has worked hard to place the issue of his imprisonment in the forefront of political life. Most recently, Hopi and the Labour Representation Committee jointly organised a well- attended solidarity screenings of his film Offside in London; further successful film events have been held in Manchester and Glasgow within the last two weeks.

Around the world, Panahi’s case has received wide support that has helped to build solidarity. On April 30 numerous Hollywood leading lights signed a petition for his release. Their petition read as follows:

“Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed Iranian director of such award-winning films as The white balloon, The circle, Crimson gold and Offside, was arrested at his home on March 1 in a raid by plain-clothed security forces. He has been held since then in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

“A recent letter from Mr Panahi’s wife expressed her deep concerns about her husband’s heart condition, and about his having been moved to a smaller cell. Mr Panahi’s films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past 10 years and he has effectively been kept from working for the past four years. Last October, his passport was confiscated and he was banned from leaving the country. Upon his arrest, Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr Panahi with ‘unspecified crimes’. They have since reversed themselves, and the charges are now specifically related to his work as a filmmaker.

“We (the undersigned) stand in solidarity with a fellow filmmaker, condemn this detention, and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr Panahi immediately.

“Iran’s contributions to international cinema have been rightfully heralded, and encouraged those of us outside the country to respect and cherish its people and their stories. Like artists everywhere, Iran’s filmmakers should be celebrated, not censored, repressed and imprisoned.”

Signatories were Paul Thomas Anderson, Joel and Ethan Coen, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro, Curtis Hanson, Jim Jarmusch, Ang Lee, Richard Linklater, Terrence Malick, Michael Moore, Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese, James Schamus, Paul Schrader, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone and Frederick Wiseman.

Subsequently, on Saturday May 22, 85 Iranian filmmakers also signed a letter calling for Panahi’s release: “In view of the existing conditions for … Jafar Panahi, we the undersigners of this letter, a group of independent film-makers, call for the freedom and speedy consideration of his conditions and his demands in prison.” The previous weekend Jafar Panahi had started a hunger strike to underline his resolve. Veteran Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami also made vehement calls for Panahi’s release while in Cannes with his film Certified copy, where he handed out an open letter he had written to the Iranian authorities demanding his colleague be freed. Kiarostami was quoted as saying at a press conference subsequent to the screening of his film: “When a filmmaker is imprisoned, it is the art which is attacked. I believe we can’t remain indifferent to the situation.”[3]

Iran’s clerical regime had clearly been shaken by worldwide condemnation of Panahi’s incarceration. So much so that even before his release the panicked state-run Iranian media tried to allay spreading concern over his continued imprisonment that it started issuing statements about his imminent release. The official Iranian Students’ News Agency stated on Tuesday May 25: “Tehran’s public prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said Iranian director Jafar Panahi is to be released on bail and the judicial verdict for his release has been issued.” ISNA even went so far as to admit that, “Panahi has been imprisoned since March 1 because of making a film about Iran’s post-election events.”[4]

Of course, while Jafar Panahi’s release is an important victory for solidarity and consistent campaigning work, many political prisoners remain in Iran’s jails. This was reflected in Jafar Panahi’s own stance in refusing to be bailed previously while others were still held in prison. It also informed Hopi’s campaigning slogan: Freedom for Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners in Iran! Meanwhile executions - state murders - are continuing: earlier this month, on May 9, five political prisoners were executed in Evin prison.

And, while we celebrate what solidarity has achieved around Jafar Panahi, we also must fight hard to ensure that US, British and the UN nest of thieves and butchers abandon their plans for regime change from above. Only Iran’s people can accomplish democratic change, and it is to them that we give our support and solidarity in their struggles. Let Panahi’s release spur us on to higher levels of such solidarity.



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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Panahi stages hunger strike

Panahi stages hunger strike

Ben Lewis reports on the campaign to free the outspoken film maker imprisoned by the Iranian regime

Activists in Hands Off the People of Iran have been informed that Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed film maker who has been incarcerated for over two months, has begun a hunger strike in Evin prison.

This is the latest brave step by Panahi, who is increasingly becoming a symbol of resistance. The solidarity he can generate is of grave cause concern for the Islamic Republic, despite its jails, armed thugs and reactionary militias. Panahi fully realises this, and he is using his standing to exert as much pressure on the regime as possible. He has refused offers of bail, saying that he will only accept it when all other political prisoners are released. Like him, the overwhelming majority of these prisoners were arrested as part of the shocking wave of repression unleashed by the regime in response to the enormous protests on the streets of Iran following last June’s rigged presidential elections.

As we have reported previously, Panahi has been subjected to rigorous interrogation in jail. The Evin interrogators appear to be pursuing the tried and tested approach of bombarding him with the same questions over and over again in order to force inconsistencies in his answers, backing this up with the soul-destroying conditions and humiliating treatment for which Evin prison has become infamous.

Last Saturday the authorities kept all inmates in his wing of the prison outside their cells in the open air for the whole night. Next morning he was interrogated once more, this time being accused of secretly working on a film from his cell. He is particularly concerned about some of the new threats that have been made against his family.

There is clearly a lot of work for us in the solidarity movement. We must do what we can to publicise Jafar Panahi’s brave stance, not least using his wonderfully human films. He - and indeed all the other political prisoners in Iran - cannot be allowed to suffer without an outcry. Holywood directors Martin Scorscese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Redford have issued forthright statements demanding his release. At this week’s 63rd Cannes Film Festival there were countless expressions of solidarity. One of the nine chairs for jury members remained empty in his honour. Given Panahi’s reputation internationally, it is quite striking that his case has hitherto been subjected to what John McDonnell MP has described as a “media blackout” in Britain, and we must break through this.

Simultaneously, it is vital ensure that the brutal actions of the Iranian state and its callous treatment of dissenters and critical figures of all kinds should not in any way be misappropriated by the US or UK governments to cover their designs on Iran and the region more generally. At a time when the permanent members of the UN security council - US, UK, China, Russia and France - have agreed on new proposals for a fresh round of sanctions, and when the rightwing Israeli politicians hypocritically hark on about the danger of a “second holocaust”, this is of the utmost importance.

Indeed, given that public opinion is not exactly welcoming the prospect of the further escalation of tension in the Middle East, one of the ways in which the imperialists may attempt to respond is to disingenuously latch on to the cause of Iran’s political prisoners. So there is a danger that the political and cultural establishment in the US and UK could hijack Panahi’s courageous stance for their own nefarious purposes. So we must redouble our campaign for the immediate and unconditional release not only of Panahi, but of all political prisoners, and link this with implacable opposition to imperialist sanctions and threats of war. A fight on two fronts which Hopi has conducted since its inception.

Solidarity success

May 12 saw well over 100 people attend a solidarity screening at London’s Soho Theatre of Panahi’s best known film, Offside, jointly organised by Hopi and the Labour Representation Committee. The event was the first in a series of film showings and solidarity events across the country. The Manchester screening took place on May 18, and there will be a further one in Glasgow on May 21.

The event opened with Soho Theatre’s artistic director, Lisa Goldman, providing a moving account of her work with Panahi on artistic projects in Iran. She was followed by John McDonnell, who outlined the significance of the campaign to free Panahi. “Every movement creates a symbol,” he said. “In refusing bail until all other political prisoners are freed, Jafar is taking a courageous stance that we in Hopi wish to applaud and highlight.” He emphasised the importance of Hopi’s core principles - against war or sanctions on Iran; but no support for the theocracy and unequivocal solidarity with genuinely democratic struggles from below against its rule, especially those of the workers’ movement.

This was a theme British-Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi took up in her opening remarks to the audience, explaining that is why she “loved” Hopi. Offside was certainly a big hit with the audience: stormy applause followed its closing credits. At the end a message of thanks was read out from Panahi’s family.

PCS welcome

Hopi activists have been present this week at the Public and Commercial Services union conference in Brighton and our stall has had a very good response from delegates. PCS has been affiliated to Hopi since 2008 and the annual conference is always a good time to meet PCS militants new and old. Gratifyingly, the response we had from the delegates this year was particularly warm. We distributed some 400 information bulletins on the Jafar Panahi campaign and have already received over 50 signed postcards, which will be sent off in a special batch to Panahi’s family in Iran. We also raised funds for our campaigning work by selling numerous ‘No to war; no to theocracy’ badges and copies of Panahi’s films.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Execution to impose terror

Execution to impose terror

Our response to the judicial murder of Kurds should not be to call for the Iranian regime to be hauled before a tribunal for ‘crimes against humanity’, writes Yassamine Mather. It should be to step up our solidarity

Four of the five political prisoners executed by the Islamic government in Iran in the early hours of Sunday May 9 came from Kurdistan and were accused of membership of the left nationalist group, the PJAK (an Iranian version of the PKK). The executed prisoners - Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alamhouli and Mehdi Eslamian - all denied membership of “political organisations” and the PJAK issued a statement clarifying that none of those executed had any organisational links with it. Farzad Kamangar was a teacher and trade unionist who had been accused of “endangering national security” and “enmity against god”.

Although Iran has other major Kurdish nationalist organisations, dissatisfaction with the pro-western policies of the other groups, which have collaborated with US plans for ‘regime change’, has swelled the ranks of the relatively unknown and younger PJAK.

The PJAK claims that half of its members are women and that it supports women’s rights. It has been involved in many military confrontations with Iran’s security forces in Kurdistan. It claims its guerrillas fight inside Iran, and reports suggest that in August 2007 it managed to destroy an Iranian military helicopter that was conducting a forward operation of bombardment by Iranian forces. It has adopted many of the political ideas and military strategies of the PKK.

On April 24 2009, PJAK rebels attacked a police station in Kermanshah province. According to Iranian government sources, a number of policemen and eight rebels were killed in a fierce gun battle. Iran responded a week later by attacking Kurdish villages in the border area of Panjwin inside Iraq using helicopter gunships.

In April 2006, US congressman Dennis Kucinich sent a letter to George W Bush in which he wrote that the US is likely to be supporting and coordinating the PJAK, since it operates and is based in Iraqi territory, under the control of the Kurdistan regional government. In November 2006, journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, supported this claim, stating that the US military and the Israelis are giving the group equipment, training and targeting information in order to create internal pressures in Iran. The accusations seem unlikely, given the PJAK’s membership of the PKK-led Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (KCK). However, even if the accusations are correct, members and supporters of this organisation join it precisely because of its leftwing politics and its claims of opposition to imperialist powers, rather than aligning themselves with the longer established, bourgeois nationalist parties.

The mass protests of 2009 and 2010 were all expressions of the opposition by Iran’s youth to the Islamic regime. However, in Kurdistan province that opposition is even stronger. The region known as Iranian Kurdistan includes the greater parts of the provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Ilam, with an estimated population of six to seven million mainly Sunnis. It has a long history of rebellion against the central government, going back to the Sassanid era.

In modern times, Kurds have rebelled on a number of occasions. During World War I, the weakness of the Qajar dynasty encouraged Kurdish tribal chiefs to take control of large sections of the province. In 1922, Reza Khan (the shah’s father and founder of the Pahlavi dynasty), sent his army to quash Kurdish rebellion. During the first years of the Pahlavi rule, Reza Shah pursued a crude policy of forcing Kurdish chiefs into exile, while confiscating their land and property.

At the start of World War II, Reza Shah showed open sympathies to Nazi Germany, prompting an invasion of Iran by Allied troops in September 1941. In the Kurdish regions, the Persian army was defeated and their ammunition seized by Kurds. With support from the Soviet Union, a Kurdish state was created in the city of Mahabad in 1946, but it lasted less than a year - the withdrawal of the occupying Soviet forces allowed the shah’s army to defeat the separatists. However, despite its short history the Mahabad republic played a significant role in radicalisation of Kurdish youth and their dream of a socialist Kurdistan.

Another wave of nationalism followed the fall of the shah in February 1979, and Iran’s first supreme religious leader, ayatollah Khomeini, declared a jihad against ‘Kurdistan’. In the spring of 1980, government forces under the command of president Bani Sadr attacked the cities of Mahabad, Sanandaj, Pawe and Marivan. Entire villages and towns were destroyed to force the Kurds into submission. Ayatollah Khalkhali, also known as the ‘hanging judge’, sentenced thousands of men to execution after summary trials while Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps fought to re-establish government control in the entire region. However, the central government did not fully succeed in the countryside and, as the Islamic state consolidated its power, arresting socialists and communists. Organisations of the Iranian left took refuge in Kurdistan, many spending most of the 1980s in that region.

In February 1999, Kurdish nationalists took to the streets in several cities against the government of president Khatami and in support of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. These protests were violently suppressed by government forces and at least 20 people were killed.

In November 2009 Iran’s Islamic Republic executed Ehsan Fattahian, a Kurdish political activist charged with being an “enemy of god” because of his political activities in support of Kurdish national rights. He was a member of Komala, one of the main political organisations active in Iranian Kurdistan since the 1960s, some of whose founding members had Maoist tendencies. When the Islamic regime took power, Komala participated in the first parliamentary elections. However, fearing Komala or leftwing victories in some of Kurdish seats, the regime cancelled the elections and sent in the military in the summer of 1979 to put down the ‘Kurdish rebellion’. Leftwing Kurdish political organisations, including Komala, were declared illegal.

In 1983, together with an Iranian socialist group, Unity of Communist Militants, Komala formed the Communist Party of Iran. In 1991, political differences with the UCM leadership led to a split, with the latter forming the Worker-communist Party of Iran. In 2004 there was a further split in the Communist Party of Iran, with the more nationalist faction led by Mohtadi deciding to relaunch Komala .

Mohatdi now considers himself a “revolutionary liberal”.[1] He has met American officials over the last few years at the state department and other government agencies[2] and many consider that the group has shifted to the right since the split with the CPI. Komala remains one of four major Kurdish parties organising in Kurdistan. Most activists of the organisation are unaware of the relationship of Mohtadi and other Komala leaders with the US.

Clearly Ehsan Fattahian, who had spent many years in prison, could not be held responsible for Mohtadi’s actions. In the same way Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alamhouli and Mehdi Eslamian are innocent victims of an Islamic regime that uses execution as a means of imposing terror at a time when protesters are preparing themselves for demonstrations commemorating the events of last summer.

Kurdish and Iranian political groups have called for a one-day general strike in Kurdistan on Thursday May 13 in protest at the executions and students have also showed their outrage, organising a spontaneous protest when Ahmadinejad visited Shahid Beheshti University on May 10. The mild disapproval of the executions expressed by ‘reformist’ leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi, who merely expressed his concern that the Islamic state’s legal procedures may not have been followed, left everyone, including some of his supporters, bewildered. The executions of these young Kurds will only increase the hatred felt towards the central government.

Ironically, earlier this month, no doubt at the urging of a politically correct adviser, Iran’s supreme leader, ayatollah Khamenei, issued an order forbidding the mimicking by Iranians of the accent of Kurds, Turks and other peoples when they speak Persian. It is fitting for our time that the ruler of a government responsible for the death of so many innocent Kurds - victims of air raids, helicopter gunships, military attacks and executions - should claim to be concerned by the hurt they might feel if their accent is mocked.

Following these executions, another call has been made by supporters of the many splinter groups originating from Fedayeen (Minority) for a tribunal of Iran’s leaders for ‘crimes against humanity’. Although I share their outrage, the reality is, we live in a world where major western ‘democracies’ - the US, UK, France, Italy and so on - are themselves guilty of appalling crimes committed in the name of their ‘war on terror’. The execution of political opponents by Israel, the US and its occupation allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention torture, waterboarding and the rest, are the order of the day. In such circumstance any ‘human rights’ tribunal in the west directed against Iran’s Islamic leaders would be grossly hypocritical.

I cannot speak for those executed this week, but I am sure the Fedayeen comrades I knew personally who lost their lives in executions or in the dungeons of the Islamic republic would want all of us to concentrate our efforts on supporting the important struggles of the Iranian working class against the regime and against capitalism rather than calling on the west to put this or that religious politician, judge or executioner on trial. There must be no illusions in western liberal democracy. Pinning our hopes on human rights lawyers and do-gooders will only hinder our activities in support of the ideals for which so many of our comrades lost their lives in Kurdistan and the rest of Iran.