Monday, September 14, 2009

Free Maziar Bahari!

From The New York Times:

September 12, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor

Our Reporter, Ahmadinejad’s Prisoner

THEY came early in the morning, about seven o’clock. In Tehran on Sunday, June 21, at his 83-year-old mother’s home, agents of the Iranian government seized Maziar Bahari. As his mother looked on, Mr. Bahari — a 42-year-old Newsweek journalist and documentary filmmaker who has been accredited by the Iranian authorities for over a decade — was arrested and taken to Evin prison, where we believe he is being held in isolation. He has not been allowed to see a lawyer, nor has he been formally charged. He is awaiting the birth of his first child.

Mr. Bahari, a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, has found himself an unwilling player in a frightened regime’s attempt to explain away the demonstrations that took place after Iran’s contested June 12 presidential elections. The government tries to justify these kinds of arrests by asserting that the Western news media were helping to drive the unrest in hopes of fomenting a “velvet revolution.”

Mr. Bahari’s case might be of limited interest save for one thing: the regime denying him his most basic rights is an aspiring nuclear power. If Iran can so easily become a totalitarian caricature, imprisoning journalists and mostly peaceful protesters, what else is it capable of?...(more)


Also from the Times:

September 9, 2009
Editorial

Free Maziar Bahari

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is preparing to come to the United Nations this month where he will enjoy the freedom to speak his mind. Back home, far too many people are denied their basic rights and are deprived of their freedom. Since fraudulent presidential elections in June, and a harsh government crackdown that followed, at least 100 people, including politicians, lawyers and journalists have been jailed.

There are horrifying reports of prisoners being raped and tortured. Show trials, complete with obviously coerced confessions, have only reminded the Iranian people, and the world, of the government’s illegitimacy.

Among those unjustly detained is Maziar Bahari, a respected documentary filmmaker and correspondent for Newsweek who has been in prison since June 21. A native Iranian who is now a Canadian citizen, Mr. Bahari has not been officially charged and has not been allowed to see a lawyer. Yet he was forced to confess that he and others took part in a “velvet coup” engineered by the West to oust Mr. Ahmadinejad. Such charges are blatantly false. ... (more)


And, earlier, from Newsweek:

Bahari in Line for Spanish Prize

NEWSWEEK correspondent imprisoned in Iran is in contention for the prestigious Asturias Award.

Sep 7, 2009 | Updated: 9:56 p.m. ET Sep 7, 2009

Maziar Bahari, the documentary filmmaker and NEWSWEEK correspondent imprisoned in Iran for the last 11 weeks, is a leading contender for the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, one of the world's most prestigious honors....

Bahari's nomination has been given public support by Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

The Asturias jury, which begins deliberations on Wednesday and will make its decision public on Thursday, is charged with giving the award to the candidate "whose work has made an exemplary and outstanding contribution to mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence amongst men, to the struggle against injustice, poverty, disease or ignorance, to the defense of freedom, or whose work has widened the horizons of knowledge or has been outstanding in protecting and preserving Mankind's heritage."

Before the 42-year-old Bahari was jailed in the tumultuous aftermath of Iran's elections in June, he had spent most of his career producing films that addressed precisely such concerns not only in his native Iran but also in Iraq, Africa, Europe, and Canada, where he is a naturalized citizen.

Since he was arrested at his 83-year-old mother's apartment in Tehran just after dawn on June 21, Bahari has not been allowed to see a lawyer, but has twice been pushed in front of government cameras to "confess" that he might "inadvertently" have undermined the security of the state.

What he did in fact was to work openly and with full accreditation by the Iranian government, reporting for NEWSWEEK and in his film work about the hopes and fears, courage and confusion of the Iranian people at a turning point in their nation's history. No specific charges have been made public against him, and his alleged crimes appear to consist of nothing more than reporting for foreign publications and networks. In fact, the Iranian government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed such coverage--until hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of Iran's cities to protest against the alleged fraud that reelected it.

The injustice of Bahari's incarceration, taken as emblematic of the repression faced by millions of Iranians and by those who insist on freedom of expression everywhere in the world, is a factor that may be taken under consideration by the Asturias jury. But his work also speaks for itself.

One of Bahari's first widely distributed movies was The Voyage of the Saint Louis, about a ship full of Jewish refugees from Europe on the eve of World War II that was turned away from the United States only to return its passengers to Europe, where many eventually died in the Holocaust. Another of his projects explored the role of music and especially of drums to heal the wounds of ethnic strife in Burundi. Among Bahari's films shot in Iran, one of the most striking is Mohammad and the Matchmaker, a documentary that follows the surprising twists and turns in the life of a former heroin addict who is HIV-positive and looking for a wife.

It's just such work that led the Harvard Film Archive to praise Bahari as representative of "a new generation of young Iranian filmmakers," one who looks inside contemporary Iranian culture to "reveal the human element behind the headlines and capture cultural truths through the lens of individual experience."... (more)

[In the end, the City of Berlin won this year's award, 20 years after the fall of the Wall. But Maziar was a contender until late the final night of judging.]

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