Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Finally, I swear upon what I believe in, the cinema..." (UPDATE BELOW)

In some places in the world, being both an humanitarian and a filmmaker is enough to put the connection between one's head and neck in jeopardy. Corrupt autocrats don't like some uppity liberal humanist type calling them out on their abuses, and when the troublemaker has a camera and talent and can put the whole sordid business before the entire world, well, the autocrats sometimes decide the world would be a lot better place without such a character.

Iranian director Jafar Panahi has learned this the hard way. Being an humanitarian put him at odds with the malevolent mullahs who hold power in his country and don't so much rule as afflict the nation like a cancer. In March, they put the pinch on him and slapped him in the clink--a darkly infamous clink, at that--for no stated reason, at first, later amended to the allegation that he was committing the unpardonable act of "making a film against the regime..." He wasn't, but he's been plenty critical, in the past, of the pernicious effect their way of doing business has had on Iranian society. The mullahs don't like that sort of thing in quiet times; when the country began to revolt against them after they fixed the "election" in favor of their dog Ahmadinejad, the word "restraint" has largely slipped from their vocabulary. They've locked Panahi in a hole, and apparently haven't bothered extending to him much that could be mistaken for due process.

Things have just escalated. On Tuesday, Panahi was able to get a statement out of Evin prison, and it looks as if, one way or another, these events are soon going to reach a conclusion. The full text:

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I hereby declare that I have been subject to ill treatment in Evin prison.

On Saturday May 15, 2010, prison guards suddenly entered our cell, no. 56. They took us away, my cell mates and I, made us strip and kept us in the cold for an hour and a half.

Sunday morning, they brought me to the interrogation room and accused me of having filmed the interior of my cell, which is completely untrue. Then they threatened to imprison my entire family at Evin and to mistreat my daughter in an unsafe prison in the city of Rejayi Shahr.

I have eaten and drunk nothing since Sunday morning, and I declare that if my wishes are not respected, I will continue to abstain from drinking and eating. I do not want to be a rat in a laboratory, victim of their sick games, threatened and psychologically tortured.

My wishes are:

--The possibility to contact and see my family, and the complete assurance that they are safe.

--The right to retain and communicate with an attorney, after 77 days of imprisonment.

--Unconditional liberty until the day of my judgment and the final verdict

--Finally, I swear upon what I believe in, the cinema: I will not cease my hunger strike until my wishes are satisfied.

My final wish is that my remains be returned to my family, so that they may bury me in the place they choose.

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I hope this isn't Jafar Panahi's epitaph.

--j.

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UPDATE (14 June, 2010) -- It turned out not to be Panahi's epitaph. After he declared his hunger strike, Iranian authorities finally granted him a hearing, and, a week later, he was released on $200,000 bail. This doesn't appear to be over, though. After Panahi's release, as related by Ian Black of the Guardian, "the Tehran prosecutor's office said that Panahi's file and the charges against him had been sent to a revolutionary court that deals with security offences. It did not detail the charges." Stay tuned.

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