Friday, March 05, 2010

Film maker seized with family and friends ahead of women's day

OFFSIDE film showed Iranian women wanting to support their country but enchained by regime. Symbolic, but true incident.

Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi has been arrested along with his wife Tahereh Saidi, their daughter and fifteen guests who happened to be at their home. State forces took away many of Panahi’s possessions in the course of the arrest.

Panahi has been unable to attend film festivals abroad since wearing a green scarf at the Montreal Film Festival in 2009. He was arrested briefly after attending the memorial service of murdered student, Neda Agha Soltan.

Panahi is well known for his socially critical films such as the award-winning ‘The Circle’ (Dayareh) which won awards at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 including the prestigious Gold Lion Award, and ‘Offside’, which won the Silver Bear award at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival.

Both expose the crushing inequality of women in today’s Iran. His most famous film in the West, ‘Offside’, is the story of a group of women attempting to sneak into Iran’s football match against Bahrain during World Cup qualifiers. The women are arrested and chained to the railings outside the stadium. From there, they have to listen to the cheers of the all-male crowd watching Iran’s victory.

The campaigning organisation Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI), formed by Iranian exiles and left-wing supporters in Britain, believes the film maker's arrest could well have been timed as a threat to opposition, with International Women's Day coming on Monday, March 8. HOPI says Panahi’s films vividly dramatise the second class status of women in Iran faced and the brutal barriers they face to playing a full and active role in society.

Yassamine Mather, national chair of Hopi, commented:

“Given Panahi’s subject matter, this arrest could be a pre-emptive strike by the regime against potential anti-government protests and demos on International Women’s Day (March 8).

“We call for letters of protest to the Iranian embassy in London and the maximum turn-out on the IWD march starting from outside the building on Saturday, March 7. (Details below).

“We should demand Panahi’s release using our own, militant methods of protests and struggle. But we should have nothing but contempt for the crocodile tears that leaders of imperialist governments that threaten Iran with sanctions and war will no doubt shed over Panahi and others like him.

“The theocracy and imperialism have a symbiotic relationship. Iran uses the pressure of the West to brand any opposition to its rule an imperialist ‘fifth column’; for the West, Iran is a useful bogey-man in a region which is the focus of ‘the war on terror’.”

Hopi calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Jafar Panahi, Tahereh Saidi, their daughter and all political prisoners in Iran. "We call on all progressive and democrats to send letters, emails, fax of protest to the Iranian embassy in their country".

Amnesty International report on Iranian Women

Women act against repression and intimidation in Iran

28 February 2008

The Iranian authorities are continuing to harass activists working to defend women’s rights. Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi – two Kurdish Iranian activists – currently remain detained without charge or trial. They were arrested in October and November 2007 for peacefully exercising their rights.

The two activists were working as part of The Campaign for Equality, an Iranian women’s rights initiative. Launched in 2006, the campaign aims to collect one million signatures of Iranian nationals to a petition demanding an end to legal discrimination against women in Iran. The group also provides legal training to volunteers – both women and men – who then travel across the country to promote the campaign, and talk to women about their rights and the need for legal reform.

Women in Iran face far-reaching discrimination under the law. They are denied equal rights in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. Evidence given by a woman in court is considered only worth half that given by a man. A girl under the age of 13 can be forced to marry a much older man if her father permits it.

With the increase in women’s literacy in the last 30 years and the large number of women students at university, women are increasingly empowered to challenge discrimination. But their efforts are viewed with suspicion by the authorities, who have launched a campaign of intimidation and repression against them. The campaign’s website has been blocked at least seven times by the authorities and its activists are being targeted because of their work.

In August 2007, Nasim Sarabandi and Fatemeh Dehdashti were the first women among the campaign’s activists to receive prison sentences. Detained for 24 hours in January 2007 while collecting signatures in Tehran, they were later sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, after being charged with “acting against state security by propaganda against the system”.

Over 40 others have been detained in connection with their campaigning activities, including Reza Dowlatshah. He was hosting an educational workshop for the campaign in September 2007, when he was detained for three days and beaten.

Although the obstacles are many, activists are still willing to risk their safety to bring about a fundamental change in how the Iranian authorities treat Iran’s women. As Shadi Sadr, a lawyer currently facing possible imprisonment for her human rights work, says: “My grandmother wasn’t allowed the life she wanted. I was lucky. I achieved everything but the struggle was still hard. I didn’t want the dearest person in my life [my daughter] to have the same troubles.”

These sentiments are echoed by former Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, “We are a nation bursting with female ability. We are a country blessed with hard-working women desperate to make a contribution, but one hobbled by legalised prejudice and social bigotry. Now more than ever, the women of Iran deserve our support”.

Rather than using its power to repress and intimidate those who protest and demand their rights, Iran’s government should see the work of women’s rights activists and human rights defenders as an asset, and recognize the important contribution that such activists and defenders are making to address discrimination and intolerance and to promote universal human rights for all Iranians.

London demonstration: 7th March 2010 at Noon

Assembly: In front of the Embassy of Islamic Republic of Iran 16 Princes Gate, London SW7 Nearest Underground Station: South Kensington

Hands Off The People of Iran is supporting this demonstration. Chair Yassamine Mather will be one of the speakers

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