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Academy Award Winner Paul Haggis, Actress Nazanin Boniadi, Film Producer Trudie Styler and Former Imprisoned Journalist Maziar Bahari Join Amnesty International June 8 to Symbolically Rename NYC Plaza “Azadi Square” and Deliver Petitions to Iranian Mission Urging Reversal of Sentence on Film Director Jafar Panahi
(New York) – Amnesty International will lead a delegation of Hollywood luminaries to the Iran Mission to the United Nations on Wednesday, June 8 to symbolically rename a NYC street plaza “Azadi Square” (“Freedom Square”) and deliver tens of thousands of petition signatures demanding the reversal of the harsh sentence against acclaimed film director Jafar Panahi. The group will include Academy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis, Iranian-born actress Nazanin Boniadi, film producer and actress Trudie Styler and journalist/filmmaker Maziar Bahari, whose book about his imprisonment and torture in Iran will be published June 6.
The artists will join Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox and human rights activists for a rally, photo opportunity and press conference beginning at 10:30 a.m. outside the mission offices, located at 622 Third Avenue, between 40th and 41st streets. With symbolic “street signs” in Farsi the plaza area near the mission will be renamed, after the city square in Tehran that was the location of massive peaceful protests against government repression. The delegation will then attempt to personally present to mission officials scads of petition papers signed by more than 20,000 people demanding that Panahi’s sentence be overturned.
The petitions were signed by Haggis, Boniadi, and Styler along with other luminaries, including Hollywood directors/producers/composers/actors Martin Scorsese, Edward Zwick, Ridley Scott, Phillip Noyce, Ron Howard, Paul Mazusky, Harvey Weinstein, Lina Wertmuller, Nancy Meyers, Pamela Fryman, Hans Zimmer, Michael Apted, Sean Penn, Mia Farrow, Gabriel Byrne, Elliott Gould, Harvey Keitel, Sir Patrick Stewart, Josh Brolin, Gale Anne Hurd, Emma Thomas, Susan Sarandon, among others. Artists of Iranian background including Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Googoosh, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Rudi Bakhtiar, Hadi Ghaemi, Hamid Dabashi, and Azar Nafisi also signed the petition. Journalist Roxana Saberi, who was freed from prison in Iran in a case that Amnesty International raised, added her name to the petition.
Amnesty International has called on Iran to reverse the sentence imposed on Panahi and his artistic collaborator Mohammad Rasoulof, saying their basic right to freedom of expression is being violated.
Larry Cox said: “Imagine your government telling you that you cannot work, speak your mind or express your beliefs – or you will be thrown in prison. This is the ordeal that Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof suffer every day. These two men are being persecuted; it is simply wrong and we must speak up against Iran’s actions. Amnesty International is standing up for their freedom and dignity, as we have for tens of thousands of people for the last 50 years. We are honored to have the support of the Hollywood community in this vital work.”
The call to reverse the harsh sentence imposed on the two filmmakers is part of Amnesty International’s campaign urging the Iranian government to end its clampdown on dissent, including arbitrary arrests of thousands, torture, imposition of harsh prison sentences and even the use of the death penalty. Of particular concern is the targeting of lawyers, notably those who defend political prisoners, as well as journalists, authors and activists.
Haggis, who wrote the screenplay for Best Film winners Million Dollar Baby and Crash, said: “What Iran has done to Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof is inhumane and unjust. The world cannot ignore the terrible fate of these two brilliant artists. We must keep speaking out and urging the Iranian authorities to reverse the sentence against them.”
Panahi, the director of masterpieces including Badkonake Sefid (White Balloon) and i “Dayareh” (Circle), was held in Tehren’s Evin Prison for three months in March 2010 on charges he made an anti-government film without permission. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison and banned from filmmaking for 20 years. Panahi and Rasoulof -- under house arrest while they appeal the sentence-- have defiantly continued to work and were able to smuggle films out of Iran that were shown at the Cannes Film Festival last month. Panahi’s account of his house arrest, shot secretly in his home, is called This is Not a Film.
Actress Nazanin Boniadi, an Amnesty International spokesperson since 2009, said: "We cannot turn away from this injustice. The freedom of expression is a universal right. Jailed for supposedly making an anti-government film? This is simply unimaginable to us. Which is why we cannot stop until this terrible sentence is overturned. We cannot allow the Iranian authorities to think we have forgotten or that no one cares."
Boniadi was involved in Amnesty International’s campaign to free journalist Saberi and collaborated on The Neda Project commemorating the first anniversary of the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan on the streets of Tehran in 2009. She has also supported Amnesty International’s campaign to stop violence against women.
Maziar Bahari, a Canadian of Iranian descent, is co-author of “Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival,” which relates his experience in Iran’s Evin prison, where he was tortured. He returned to his homeland in 2009 to cover the Iranian presidential election for Newsweek, only to be arrested during the demonstrations. Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience” at the time.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.