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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