Published in German daily newspaper “Die Welt” on 29 May 2010
Source (German) http://www.welt.de/die-welt/kultur/article7832087/Iranischer-Regisseur-spurlos-verschwunden.html
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

Concerns are growing Among exiled Iranians in Germany over the filmmaker, painter and philosopher Daryush Shokof. 55-year-old Shokof was last seen Monday at Cologne central station, where he intended to board a train to Paris. However, he seems to have never arrived there – at least he did not keep any of his appointments in the French capital. Neither his wife Taies Farzan, an actress, nor his friends have received a sign of life from him for five days.

Shokof had left Iran – then Persia – under the Shah in order to study in the United States, and did not return to the Iran of the mollahs. He has been living and working in Germany since 1985, and has become one of the most vocal critics of the Islamic Republic. Five years ago he went on a seven-day hunger strike outside the headquarters of the Green Party in Berlin, demanding freedom and justice for his home country. Last year, he went on a four-day hunger strike outside the Russian Embassy in Berlin after Russian President Medvedev had been the first statesman to recognize the official result of the rigged presidential elections in Iran.

Shokof belongs to a radical part of the exiled Iranian opposition whose members are strictly against any contact with the regime in Tehran. In an open letter addressed to the Berlin film festival, he criticized that the organizers invited Iranian films that have an official permit of the Iranian regime to attend the festival. He directed the same reproach to the Cannes film festival. He argued that any invitation of that kind is a “political” one, not a “cultural” one (as claimed by the festival management), because the regime in Iran uses them to strengthen its reputation inside and outside the country.

His own films also became increasingly political. His first movie “Seven Servants” – with Anthony Quinn in one of his last roles – expressed the philosophy of “maximalism”, using all creative energies for the purpose of a united mankind. “Breathful”, created three years ago in Berlin, is a gangster comedy with one important feature: All parts are played by women. With this movie, Shokof pointed out to the mollahs that women can stand their ground in male domains such as gangster movies.

His latest filme “Iran Zendan” (“Iran Prison”) was premiered only three weeks ago in the cinema “Babylon” in Berlin. The movie reflects the protests against the outcome of the presidential election and accompanies detained protesters on their way into the system’s torture chambers.

Since after the rigged elections, Iranian filmmakers are spearheading the protesting creative artists. The annual number of films produced by the Iranian cinema approximately equals that of Germany’s cinema (100 – 150 films). Cinema in Iran is an important cultural factor. Last Tuesday, Iranian film director Jafar Panahi was released from a prison in Tehran after eight weeks of detention.

hgr

Note: A short article on this subject was also published in German daily

Published on German public radio channel “Deutschlandradio” on 27 May 2010
Source (German): http://www.dradio.de/kulturnachrichten/2010052718/1/
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

Human rights activists deplore new cases of arbitrary prison sentences in Iran. They refer to two members of a critical student organization – women’s rights acitvist Bahareh Hedayat, and her fellow student Milad Asadi. The International Society for Human Rights reports that both werde sentenced to several years imprisonment. They were punished for peacefully exercising their right to free expression. According to official announcements, the students werde sentenced for spreading anti-government propaganda and acting against national security. Both are currently detained in Tehran’s Evin prison.

TV report shown in German public service TV station ZDF’s evening news programme “heute-journal” on Wednesday, 26 May 2010.
Link to video of complete news programme on Neda Soltani: http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1054084/Das-falsche-Gesicht-der-Neda-Agha-Soltan#/beitrag/video/1053824/ZDF-heute-journal-vom-26-Mai-2010

Link to video of the TV reportage on Neda Soltani: http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1054084/Das-falsche-Gesicht-der-Neda-Agha-Soltan#/beitrag/video/1054084/Das-falsche-Gesicht-der-Neda-Agha-Soltan

English translation kindly provided by Anusche Noring, first published on Facebook

News anchor’s introduction:
Neda. This name immediately brings back memories of the pictures and the anger we witnessed last summer. Neda Agha-Soltan was the Iranian student who was shot dead on the fringes of a demonstration against the Ahmadinejad government. A mobile phone video captured the scene of her death, and Neda became the most well-known martyr of this uprising for freedom. Even today, her picture can still be seen all over the Internet, on posters and T-shirts – yet many media outlets are showing the wrong picture, one which they found on the Internet, the picture of a woman called Neda Soltani. This is not only an example of slipshod research, but for the real, living Neda Soltani, it is a tragedy, it placed her between all the frontlines and, eventually, forced her into political asylum in Germany. Kamran Safiarian reports on what is indeed a deeply sad story in every respect.

TV reportage:

These are the pictures that would turn her into the icon of resistance in Iran – Neda Agha-Soltan. The Internet video showing her being murdered spread all over the world, her photograph turned her into a martyr. Neda Soltani, on the other hand, is no martyr. She is now living as a refugee in Germany. Through no fault of her own, she became the double of an icon. To the right, a picture of Neda Soltani. To the left, a picture of the murdered Neda Agha-Soltan.

Neda Soltani: “This is my profile picture from Facebook. After the murder, it was stolen and spread all over the world as being the photograph of the murdered Neda Agha-Soltan. But this photograph here does not show Neda Agha-Soltan, who was killed. This is me, Neda Soltani. And, as you can see, I am still alive.”

Tehran in June 2009. When the 26-year-old student Neda Agha-Soltan was killed, chaos was reigning in the streets. The same was true for many media outlets’ editorial offices. Journalists were eagerly searching the net for pictures of the dead young woman and quickly come across the wrong photo. Posters commemorate the unsuspecting Neda Soltani as a martyr – the beginning of a nightmare.

Neda Soltani: “All of a sudden, photos of me with a black ribbon of mourning popped up everywhere on television and in the papers. I had become a living corpse. That was horrible. I received phone calls by friends and relatives who believed I was dead. They had no idea that the whole thing was just a terrible mistake.”

But things were to turn even worse: Neda was visited by the Iranian intelligence service, and was put under pressure. The regime sensed an opportunity to take advantage of the mix-up to cover up the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan, the student – here some pictures of her funeral.

Neda Soltani: “The intelligence service showed up at my house one week after Neda’s death. They questioned me, they wanted me to confess that I was the Neda who everyone thought was dead. They wanted to use me to cover up Neda’s murder. I just couldn’t take it any more.”

Neda Soltani tried everything she could to clear up the mistake. She deleted her Facebook photo, but this led the opposition to believe in a measure of censorship by the regime. Her photo continued to spread around the world like wildfire, on the Internet and on posters – up until the present day. With the help of her lawyer, she has been fighting for the right to her own photograph ever since.

Neda Soltani’s lawyer: “In Germany, all those who were reprimanded have reacted as far as possible, they have signed declarations of discontinuance [vowing to stop using the picture] and have also changed their visual reporting. In the US, to give you another example, the situation is completely different. In that case, Ms Soltani had initially approached the individual media companies herself and pointed out the mix-up of photos while she was still in Iran, but nobody ever reacted there.”

In the meantime, Neda has fled to Germany for fear of reprisals. But here too, she is met with hostility, with some accusing her of having used the icon Neda to obtain refugee status abroad. Today, she lives near Frankfurt and works as an English teacher. Her only wish is to be able to once again lead a normal life. “I have lost everything in my life”, she says, “my family, my friends, my home country”. Neda has no idea what is going to happen to her in the future. She has given up hope of being able to return to Iran one day.

News anchor’s final comment:
The story of the two Nedas. One that should also serve as a an important lesson to us journalists.

Published in German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” on 21 May 2010
Source (German): http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2010-05/abtahi-iran-ueberfall
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

by Martin Gehlen
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, former Iranian vice-president and critic of President Ahmadinejad, was brutally attacked in Tehran. The regime continues to relentlessly confront its opponents.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi in a show trial was sentenced to six years in prison. (Photo: Archive, 2005) © Henghameh Fahimi/AFP/Getty Images


As soon as the former Iranian vice-president left the mosque in Southern Tehran and got into his car, he was attacked by hired thughs. Armed with knives and cables, they smashed the windows of his car, and sprayed tear gas inside. Later, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, still shocked, wrote on his Facebook wall that he “miraculously” managed to escape unhurt. He also posted photos of the damaged white car. It was a “very brutal” attack, nobody came to his help, while the perpetrators were “fearless and confident”, he said.

Abtahi, who is known in the West as the “blogging mullah”, is currently at large. The former representative of reformist president Mohammad Khatami was arrested shortly after the controversial presidential election that took place on 12 June 2009. According to his family, he was tortured and drugged in prison and eventually sentenced to six years in prison during a humiliating show trial. In late 2009 he was released on a 700,000 $ bail and is currently at large until the hearing of his appeal, for which a date has not yet been set.

Even though Sadegh Larijani, chief of the judiciary, stopped the televised tribunals, the relentless persecution and intimidation of dissidents continues. Six protesters, who were sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy, are currently awaiting their execution.

According to PEN center, more than 60 journalists and bloggers are currently imprisoned in Tehran’s Evin prison – almost as many as in China, whose population is 20 times larger than Iran’s. Among the detained is Mohammad Davari, chief editor of the website Saham News that first revealed the rape of young prisoners in the Kahrizak detention center last year. Human rights organizations estimate the number of political prisoners to amount to several hundreds.

Week after week, reports on draconian prison terms or new arrests of human rights activists, professors, artists, teachers, lawyers and students reach the outside world. Just recently, this happened following a failed appearance of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the Campus of Tehran University, where he was met by students chanting “death to the dictator” and “we don’t want a coup government”, preventing him from delivering his speech, and eventually forced him to leave the campus. The following night, intelligence agents broke into the dormitory and arrested Maryam Abbasinejad, a member of the student’s council.

Jafar Panahi, the well known Iranian filmmaker, was detained three months ago. Neither his lawyer nor his family were able to find out about his charges. After he was recently forced to stand in the cold in front of his cell naked while his interrogators threatened they would go and get his daughter, the 49-year old started a hunger strike.

“I am innocent, and I will not sign any confession that was coerced through threats”, he wrote from Evin prison in an open letter that was read out by French cultural minister Frederic Mitterand at the Cannes film festival. He concluded: “Let us not forget the thousands of defenceless prisoners. They, just like me, have committed no crime”.

Published in German daily newspaper “Frankfurter Rundschau” on 21 May 2010
Source (German): http://www.fr-online.de/in_und_ausland/politik/aktuell/2667573_Menschenrechtlerin-Ebadi-gegen-Sanktionen.html

Shirin Ebadi (Photo: dpa)

Bonn. Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi said she opposes economic sanctions against her home country. The Iranian people is against such steps in the nuclear conflict, said Ebadi, who is living in exile, on Thursday in the German city of Bonn.

According to Ebadi, sanctions will merely provide the regime in Tehran with a pretext for increasing repression, and the anti-regime “Green Movement” would face even more severe oppression. Currently the UN Security Council in New York in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program is discussing a new resolution on Iran and harsher sanctions.

“In the current situation, our national interest is to deliberately accept the resolutions of the UN Security Council in order to prevent further sanctions”, said Ebadi. She dismissed any economic sanctions that would raise costs for or impede access to food and medication

On the other hand, no economic cooperation should be allowed that supports the government’s anti human rights policy, Ebadi added. For example, Western cell-phone technology enabled the Iranian regime to monitor cell-phone connections, and the EUTELSAT company supported regime censorship: “We are against such business transactions”.

Ebadi added that the “systematic violation” of human rights in Iran is increasing every day. Following the execution of five political prisoners, among them a teacher, the Tehran prosecutor’s office announced that further death sentences have been issued and will soon be carried out.

Ebadi receives Bonn International Democracy Award
Shirin Ebadi said that the detained dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi has recently started a hunger strike. He has no access to a lawyer. He is accused of having planned to make an anti-government film. “This is a restriction of the freedom of thought”.

Talking to dpa news agency, Ebadi said there are currently thousands of political prisoners; even the regime announced a number of 6000 arrests. “The real number is much higher”. Many of the arrested were released only after posting heavy bails. They are banned from any political activity.

In 2003, Ebadi received the Nobel Peace Prize. Yesterday she was awarded the 2010 International Democracy Award of the city of Bonn. Ebadi, who is a lawyer, represented mostly opposition members and dissidents and was temporarily detained and banned from professional activity in the past.

Today, she continues her struggle for human rights and democracy in her country from abroad. The first person to receive the Bonn award that is endowed with 10,000 Euro was former Czech President Václav Havel. (dpa)

Published on the website of German regional public broadcasting station “WDR” on 20 May 2010
Source (German): http://www.wdr.de/themen/politik/personen/ebadi_shirin/index.jhtml
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

On Thursday (20 May 2010), Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi will be awarded the International Democracy Award of the city of Bonn to honor her “unflinching commitment to rule of law and democracy in Iran.”

Awardee Shirin Ebadi

It was obvious that this year’s decision was not a difficult one for the jury of the International Democracy Award Association. In an unanimous vote they selected Shirin Ebadi. For decades, the 62-year-old Iranian citizen has been fighting for human rights and freedom in her home country, in spite of the restrictions imposed on her by the political rulers.

The lawyer, who after 1969 worked as Iran’s first female judge, particularly promotes equal rights for women in public life and the strengthening of children’s rights. In 2003 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment.

Activism with consequences
Ebadi describes herself as a democratic woman of Islamic faith, and promotes the separation of state and religion. As a lawyer, Ebadi for years represented mainly dissidents and opposition members, which repeatedly caused conflicts with the authorities. In 2000 she was indicted for her activities as a lawyer, and spent 26 days in solitary confinement.

In 2006, the Iranian Ministry of the Interior closed her Center of Human Rights that she and other Iranian lawyers had founded in 2002. The Center promoted the rights of minorities and offered legal assistance to dissidents.

And there seems to be no end to the political pressure imposed on Ebadi, who is living in exile in Great Britain. In November of 2009, Iranian authorities cleared one of her bank deposit boxes, confiscated the entire content, and froze her bank accounts. Among the confiscated items in the deposit box were her Nobel Peace Prize certificate and medal.

By awarding Shirin Ebadi, the Bonn International Democracy Award Association “In view of growing internal political conflicts” wants to send a signal and “show solidarity with the democracy movement in Iran.”

Shirin Ebadi in Oslo

Ms Ebadi has confirmed her attendance at the prize-giving in the “Redoute” in Bonn. Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle will deliver the speech in honor of the awardee. The International Democracy Award which is endowed with 10,000 Euro was first awarded to former Czech president Vaclav Havel in 2009.

The prize is awarded to figures who actively promote democracy and human rights in their home countries, or did so in the past. The Bonn International Democracy Award is initiated by the association of the same name. Among the founding members are two banks and Deutsche Welle.

Published in German weekly magazine “Focus” on 19 May 2010
Source (German): http://www.focus.de/kultur/kino_tv/iran-regisseur-panahi-im-hungerstreik_aid_509867.html
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

As a matter of fact, Jafar Panahi was supposed to be participating in the jury of the Cannes film festival right now. But the Iranian filmmaker was detained 77 days ago. Now he has started a hunger strike.

The case of the Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi has taken a dramatic turn. “I swear by my belief, the cinema, that I will not stop my hunger strike”, the Iranian opposition website “Rahe Sabz” on Tuesday quoted him as saying. Panahi is apparently prepared to sacrifice his life in protest against the regime in his home country. His last will: He wants his body to be delivered to his family.

Reportedly, during a short telephone call from Evin prison the 49-year old film maker informed his wife that he refuses to eat and drink since Sunday and will not resume eating and drinking until his demands are met. After 77 days of detention he demands to be granted access to a lawyer and “unconditional freedom” until his case will be tried in court.

Panahi is a member of the jury that is currently deciding about the best film at the ongoing film festival on the French Riviera. His colleagues in Cannes put up an empty chair for Panahi in protest against the travel ban against him. The Iranian Ministry of Culture accused the filmmaker of having prepared a film about the protests that followed last year’s disputed presidential election. In 1995, Panahi was awarded the Golden Camera for the best debut film in Cannes for his movie “The White Balloon”.

jok/AFP

Published in German at “Spiegel”, printed edition of 10 May 2010 (not available online)

Published in English at Spiegel Online International on 17 May 2010

Photo: AFP

It has been a year since the Iranian opposition took to the streets to protest the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But many dissidents who were forced to leave the country are still in limbo. Germany has still not decided which asylum seekers to accept.

Ali Kantoori doesn’t know what his tormentors look like. Instead, it is their voices that have been burned into his memory. He was blindfolded and stripped naked. “When we’re finished with you,” one of the voices said, “your hair will be as white as your teeth.”

Kantoori, who was a student of physical education, was imprisoned in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for five months, including 25 days in a completely darkened cell. During the interrogations, the torturers broke several of his ribs and whipped the soles of his feet with electric cables. Sometimes, the 29-year-old Iranian recalls, they forced him and other prisoners to crawl on the ground, lick up the dirt and make animal noises. His family was eventually able to secure his release from that particular hell by paying €120,000 ($152,000) in bail money.

Today Kantoori lives in Nigde, a city in the heart of Turkey. By fleeing Iran in early March, he escaped arrest under a new warrant for engaging in “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” Although his hair hasn’t turned white, Kantoori now suffers from severe depression and asthma attacks. […]

read full article

Published in Austrian daily newspaper “Der Standard” on 16 May 2010
Source (German): http://derstandard.at/1271376788836/Iran-Shirin–Farhad-20
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

Despite a wave of executions, the authorities are unable to control the situation

Symbolic photo: A woman making a phone call in Tehran's Evin prison


She wanted to go to school and later study at the university. He was a teacher and loved his work. Shirin and Farhad. They never met, but they are connected by their death. Shirin and Farhad – these names are familiar to all Iranians:They are lovers in a poem of the great Iranian poet Nezami, and they lose their lives through defamation.

Now, 800 years later, it is again Shirin and Farhad, two young people who – together with three other Iranians – died for freedom in Evin prison, sentenced to death on the basis of unproven accusations. Their names are a new source of inspiration for the opposition.

Despite the executions, the authorities are unable to gain control of the situation. Noticeable uncertainty is spreading on all government levels, causing the rulers to act in comedy-like ways. An example: Recently, two public holidays on occasion of a conference in Tehran were ordered, then canceled, then confirmed again.

Comedy, however, is not at all befitting the execution of five young people. The hangings that took place shortly before the anniversary of the disputed presidential election are a warning for the opposition, political observers say. More executions are expected to take place in the next days. The opposition hopes that they will at least draw widespread international attention.

However, these executions have, for the first time after the Revolution 31 years ago, resulted in a general strike in the Kurdish areas of Iran. In many other Iranian cities, students in an act of solidarity refused to attend school lessons.

Students held protests in Tehran as well as in other Iranian universities, and the entire country was hit by a wave of sympathy for the families of the executed. The authorities, fearing that the funerals might trigger more unrest, have still not delivered the bodies of the executed to the families. They even prohibited a meeting of the bereaved that was supposed to take place at Tehran University. Yet people gathered outside the homes of the families to honor their new martyrs.

Shirin and Farhad, Neda, Sohrab, and many more names of those killed after the presidential elections that took place almost one year ago, will never be erased from the memory of the Iranian people. The list of names, however, is still getting longer.
(M.M. from Tehran, derStandard.at, 16.5.2010)

Published in Austrian daily “Der Standard” on 11 May 2010
Source (German): http://derstandard.at/1271376438657/Elf-Monate-nach-der-Iran-Wahl-Weiter-hunderte-Oppositionelle-in-Haft
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

Anti government protest in Tehran, 27 December 2009

Only one more month to go until the first anniversary of the disputed presidential elections that has left no stone unturned in Iran’s domestic politics. On 15th of June 2009, three days after the elections, the mass protests against the outcome of the elections broke out, followed by repression, arrests, and new protests.

Meanwhile, the anti government protests have abated due to the government’s brutal crackdown, but resistance is still evident throughout all social strata. Moreover, hundreds of opposition supporters, journalists, students, and other dissidents are still imprisoned without court sentences. By carrying out five death sentences , issued back in 2008 against Kurdish citizens charged with antirevolutionary activities, the regime sends a strong message, signaling that they are ready to use utmost violence.

Media under pressure
The media have been muzzled, the staff of editorial offices consists of people close to the Revolutionary Guards. The smallest hint can lead to the closure of a newspaper, something that only recently happened to the publication “Bahar” – it was forced to close after quoting former president Mohammad Khatami.

The circle of confidants of the regime, however, is shrinking. Many figures who only a few years ago were considered to be absolutely trustworthy have now been excluded from the center of power. One of them is former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Several proceedings have been initiated against his children; his son Mehdi faces arrest on returning to Iran from Europe, where he is currently residing.

Female student quota defeated
However, the rulers are nervous as well. And the measures they take only add to the rage of the Iranians. The idea of introducing a quota for female students – in order to defend male students from the successful women who flock into the universities and outperform their male fellow students – has flopped. Female students refuse to observe gender segregation in the lecture halls. Conservative pro-government ayatollahs now suggested to establish a ministry of moral surveillance.

Mysterious art theft
Also, a cultural revolution is underway: Several weeks ago, monuments on public squares in Tehran started to vanish over night – monuments of renowned Iranian intellectuals, poets, and artists. Nobody really knows who is behind this art theft. The institutions blame each other for not paying sufficient attention. Unknown perpetrators dismantle the monuments at night and remove them, even though some of them weigh more than a ton, and surveillance cameras sometimes capture the incidents.

The public is certain that radical government supporters are behind this cultural attack – backed by the security forces.
(M.M. from Tehran/derStandard.at, 11.5.2010)

Event
Vigil outside the Parliament on occasion of the executions in Iran
Wednesday, 12 May 6-8 p.m.

Published on the website of German public radio channel “Deutschlandradio” on 10 May 2010
Source (German): http://www.dradio.de/kulturnachrichten/2010051010/4/
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

Censorship in Iran is nothing new. Today, however, censorship has reached a new dimension, according to the Iranian Writer’s Association. For the first time, publishers were summoned by security authorities in the context of the Tehran book fair. Several renowned publishing houses were barred from participating in the exhibition. According to Iranian online media, only books that were published after president Ahmadinejad took office in 2005 were accepted for the exhibition. – The Tehran book fair is the leading literature-related public and trade fair in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Published by German public TV channel “ARD” on 9 May 2010
Source (German): http://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/iran1090.html
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

Executions in Iran are often carried out in public, and attended by onlookers.

The Iranian Judiciary has executed five members of a Kurdish organization. Four men and one women were hanged in the early morning hours in Evin prison north of Tehran. This was reported by the official news agency IRNA.

Kurds said to have carried out attacks
Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heidarian, Farhad Vakili, Mahdi Islamian and Shirin Elmholi were sentenced to death in 2008. IRNA, referring to information from the prosecutor’s office, reported that an appeals court confirmed the verdicts in March. They were charged with “Moharebeh” – a term describing crimes against the state and Islam.

Also, they are said to have been involved in bombings. Ms. Elmholi was accused of having planted an explosive device underneath a vehicle belonging to the Revolutionary Guards.

According to IRNA, the five executed individuals were members of the PEJAK organization which is considered the Iranian wing of the Kurdish Labour Party (PKK). In recent years, the Iranian-Iraqi border area repeatedly witnessed sporadic clashes between PEJAK fighters and Iranian forces.

Six drug dealers executed on Saturday
On Saturday, six convicted drug dealers were hanged in a prison in the city of Karaj to the West of Iran. The death sentences had been confirmed by the Supreme Court in Tehran shortly prior to the execution. Illegal drug trafficking involving more than 5 kg of drugs carries the death penalty in Iran.

Published in German daily “Die Welt” on 7. May 2010
Source (German): http://www.welt.de/die-welt/vermischtes/hamburg/article7512777/Hamburg-nimmt-Fluechtlinge-aus-dem-Iran-auf.html

By Florian Hanauer

Dozens of refugees from Iran who stranded in Turkey months ago could possibly soon find refuge in Hamburg. The black-green coalition* has agreed that Hamburg is willing to take in some of them, most of them journalists.

“In Iran, opposition members, journalists, and ordinary citizens risked their lives to protest against the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Those who escaped arrest are now in need of the solidarity of the community of democratic states”, said Antje Möller, floor leader of the Green Alternative List (GAL). Hamburg is going to accept a rate of refugees that extends the number assigned by the federal distribution basis, she added.

* Translator’s note: The “black-green coalition” comprises of the parties CDU and Green Party, and is the governing coalition in the city of Hamburg

Published in German daily “Tageszeitung” on 2 May 2010
Source (German): http://www.taz.de/1/politik/nahost/artikel/1/50-peitschenhiebe-kommen-noch-dazu/
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

by Bahman Nirumand

Protesting against the regime in Iran is punishable by imprisonment and corporal punishment. Film director Jafar Panahi, for example, has been imprisoned since March.

2006: A Silver Bear for filmmaker Panahi at the Berlin Film Festival

“I did what I had to do”, said Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi in an interview with BBC just after he was barred from leaving Iran for Germany, where he intended to participate in the Berlin International Festival “Berlinale”. At the international film festival in Montreal, Panahi as the chairman of the jury had walked on the red carpet wearing a green scarf, and declared his solidarity with the Iranian opposition, the “Green Movement of hope”. Moreover, he had participated in a memorial service for the student Neda Agha Soltan who was killed in the protests.

Two weeks after the travel ban, security officials raided Panahi’s house, where Panahi had invited 15 colleagues and dissidents for a professional discussion. Everyone present – including Panahi’s wife and daughter – was arrested. Since that day, the 1st of March, Panahi is being held in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin prison.

Initially the prosecutor announced that Panahi’s detention was not politically motivated; Panahi allegedly was arrested for a “criminal act”. Only several weeks later, Minister of Culture Mohammad Hosseini declared that according to information provided to him, Panahi had intended to make a film about the events following the disputed re-election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The rigged election had triggered massive protests.

Panahi, aged 49, is one of Iran’s internationally most renowned film makers. At the 2006 Berlinale he received a Silver Bear for his movie “Offside”. His film “The Circle” was awarded with a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000. In 1995, his film “The White Balloon” won the award for the best debut film in Cannes. This year he was invited to Berlin as an honorary guest. “We are worried and deeply regret that an internationally awarded filmmaker was detained on grounds of his artistic work”, the festival management stated after the arrest.

Post-election protests
Panahi, however, is not the only filmmaker and artist who suffers from the effects of repression against dissidents. The massive protests that followed the elections, and the role that creative artists had in them, drew the regime’s attention to the fact that the impact of culture and art on the development of a society is far bigger than the effect of political slogans, and that this impact is hard to control and prevent.

Indeed: Already during the election campaign, and even more so after the mass protests, art, music, and literature have flourished amazingly. Elaborate posters were designed, songs were composed, poems were written, films were produced, anecdotes and jokes were spread. The green-color-compositions were so imaginative that hardly any observer could restrain from participating in the uprising. Today, the song by popular singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian is as well-known in Iran as the national anthem. “Come with me, don’t stay alone, our common pain will not be healed in solitude”.

Also, the role of tens of thousands of bloggers, website operators, and journalists should not be underestimated, who with much wit and fantasy disseminated the demands of the movement and, despite rigorous censorship, made information available to the public in- and outside the country. While foreign journalists and agencies were banned from covering the protests, Iranian videographers provided foreign media with reports on the events. They will receive this year’s Henri-Nannen-Award, the most important award to honor the work of journalists.

In Iran, however, they were severely punished for this work. Hundreds of artists, writers, film makers, bloggers, and journalists were arrested, tortured in the prisons, forced to make false confessions and handed severe sentences in show trials.

58 year old filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad is one of them. From the viewpoint of the authorities, he seemed to be above all suspicion – for years he had been loyal to the regime. He made documentaries and wrote articles for the ultra-conservative daily “Keyhan”. When he observed the brutal actions of the security forces against dissenters during a protest, however, he dissociated himself from the rulers. He wrote a letter of protest to revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei, urging him to apologize for the violent crackdown on protesters. In his most recent of all in all four letters to the leader he writes: “I see fewer and fewer people around you. To be the leader of a small minority is nothing to be proud of.”

Slandering the Islamic Republic
Nourizad was sentenced to three years and six months in prison and 50 lashes. According to the presiding judge, the sentence comprises of one year for propaganda against the state and slandering the Islamic Republic, two years for insulting the revolutionary leader, 91 days for insulting the chief of the judiciary, 91 days for insulting the president, and 50 lashes for insulting the Friday prayer leader in the city of Mashhad.

Fatemeh Nourizad, his wife, recently reported after a prison visit that her husband was severely tortured during interrogations and filed a complaint with the judiciary on the issue. He fasted for 106 days to protest against the way he was treated.

In late March, forty film makers and writers in an open letter called for the immediate release of their colleagues from detention. It is part of the vested rights of any artist and writer to freely exercise their professions and freely express their views, the letter stated.

The deprivation of these rights has driven numerous Iranian writers, artists, and journalists into exile. Some of those who are still in Iran and whose works can not be published inside the country, try to publish their works abroad. Last year alone, three renowned Iranian writers – Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Shahryar Mandanipour, and Amir Hassan Cheheltan, published their novels in German translations. The originals were submitted to the censorship office in Tehran long ago. Film director Abbas Kiarostami has been living abroad for several years. “I have long since lost hope to ever be able to work in my home country again”, he writes.

The regime, however, tries to deprive them even of this sad option. Like Panahi, numerous other artists and writers are forbidden to travel. One easily gets suspected of “collaboration with foreign enemies” and cooperation with foreign intelligence services. The regime attempts to spread fear and mistrust. For this reason, it is not unusual that creative artists resort to self-censorship.

“Everybody needs to have a license”
Meanwhile, the deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Javad Shamghadri, came up with a new idea: Film makers should produce only films that are in line with Islamic faith and moral, express the contents of the Quran, and tell the “glorious history of Islam”. They are allowed to engage in politics – by educating the nation about the “soft war” staged by foreign powers, the struggle against imperialism, and the “holy resistance of Muslims”.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance will decide who is allowed to work as a film maker in the future. “Everybody needs to have a license”, says Shamghadri. “This is the bottleneck that everybody must pass. It is like the first night at the grave.” But the new regulations do not grant equal rights even to those who overcome these obstacles. In the future there will be four categories of film makers. Those in the first category are allowed to make three films per year, those in the second category two films, those in the third category only one film. The rest will not get a permit at all. The rest – that goes without saying – comprises of all those who make films that are critical of the society.