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article imageOp-Ed: The Shameful Tale of Imprisoned Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi

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By Johnny Simpson     Apr 13, 2010 in Entertainment
Last September, over 100 famous Hollywood filmmakers signed a petition for Roman Polanski within 24 hours of his arrest on a 31-year-old L.A. warrant for child rape. Yet equally famed director Jafar Panahi rots in a crypt in Evin prison to dead silence.
Most of you know the story of the arrest of famed film director Roman Polanski in Zurich last September 27 on a 31-year-old L.A. warrant for child rape. Within 24 hours of Polanski's arrest, many prominent Hollywood A-list directors, actors, producers and other creative film artists generated and signed a petition for Mr. Polanski's release from Swiss custody.
That petition made international news, not only because of the subject of the arrest, but because of rampant public opposition to it in both America and France, where overwhelming majorities of citizens polled in both countries fully supported the extradition of Mr. Polanski to face justice for his horrific crimes: the drugging and anal rape of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer, now 45. Even today, famed film celebrities like actor Ewan MacGregor continue to speak out in support of director and admitted child rapist Polanski, believing the drugging and anal rape of tween Samantha Geimer a transgression best forgotten. At the moment, director Polanski awaits a decision on his extradition from the luxury of house arrest at his ski chalet in Gstaad, where he was also allowed to complete post-production on his latest film, Ghost.
Meanwhile, the internationally renowned and cutting-edge Iranian New Wave film director Jafar Panahi, who outside of child rape shares much in common with director Polanksi in the way of international awards and accolades and the chairing of prestigious international film festival juries, has been rotting for a month in what can only be called a crypt in Evin prison without charge as the Islamist authorities attempt to break his spirit, occasionally dragging him out for harsh interrogations meant to break his will.
Mr. Panahi's crimes? Wearing a green scarf at the Montreal Film Festival, failing to renounce the Green movement and planning a film on it. Mr. Panahi was first arrested last July while he and others laid flowers at the graves of Neda Soltan and other innocent victims of the Ahmadinejad regime's brutal post-election crackdown. Despite the arrest and warnings from the Islamist authorities, Mr. Panahi continued to brazenly defy the regime, speaking out publicly in support of Mir Hussein Mousavi and the Greens and bravely brandishing a green scarf and leading a Green rally the most recent Montreal Film Festival.
The outcome was inevitable. On March 2, 2010, Iranian security forces conducted a raid on Mr. Panahi's residence in Tehran, arresting Jafar, his wife, his daughter and fifteen dinner guests present. They also ransacked his home and seized many personal belongings. All were released within a few hours except Jafar. His family went a month not knowing his condition or whereabouts. Recently Jafar's wife, Taherah Saeedi, was allowed to visit her husband in solitary confinement in Evin prison's notorious Section 209, the horrors of which are reminiscent of Room 101 in George Orwell's seminal and nightmarish novel 1984.
During her one allowed visit to her husband in Evin prison, Ms. Saeedi found the 49-year-old Jafar weak and pale in his tomb-like captivity. An attending physician informed her that Jafar had already suffered two severe chest spasms in prison and was at risk of a major heart attack. His situation could not be more dire or precarious. Support and calls for Mr. Panahi's release outside the United States have been near universal. Yet in over a month, the same Hollywood A-listers who had a petition out on Roman Polanski within a day have been dead silent on famed director Jafar Panahi's intolerable and life-threatening plight. Except for veteran actor Brian Cox and a handful of lesser-known American filmmakers? Crickets!
Even worse, and even more inexcusable, they know all about Mr. Panahi's dire situation. Anthony Kaufman, an entertainment writer for Variety, the Village Voice and the Wall Street Journal, bombarded the Hollywood film industry in late March through emails, Facebook and Twitter on Mr. Panahi's desperate situation. Only one studio executive, James Schamus, signed onto the the petition for Mr. Panahi's release. Mr. Kaufman described the barren results of his grassroots Hollywood activism on Mr. Panahi's behalf as "hitting a wall" and commiserated the Hollywood film industry's "apathy and tacit ignoring of Mr. Panahi's plight."
You can read a lot more on this sorry, perplexing and infuriating situation regarding the total lack of support for Mr. Panahi by mainstream Hollywood at the IFC Online and Breitbart's Big Hollywood blogs. Also, please sign onto the petitions for Mr. Panahi's release at Facebook and Petitions Online. His situation could not be more dire. Concerted voices raised in outrage have freed others like Roxana Saberi from the living nightmare of Evin prison. They may yet again for Mr. Panahi, if only we speak up with one voice. Please also contact the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and request they speak up for Mr. Panahi. And please spread the word. Mr. Panahi's wife has stated that as long as her husband remains in the news and receives the international support and attention he rightfully deserves, the better the chances of his surviving his ordeal and being freed from his iron maiden-like solitary confinement cell in Evin prison.
UPDATE: Earlier I sent out links to this story and another of mine now posted at Breitbart's Big Hollywood on Mr. Panahi's plight, hoping to generate more vocal support for his cause. Yet Peter Keough of the Boston Phoenix believes it is all a right-wing ploy on my part to discredit liberals and lefties. For those DJ readers who know my work, I have been reporting on the plight of Iranian film artists and even LGBTs for over a year now here at DJ and elsewhere. I suppose that is Mr. Keough's way of excusing inaction for Mr. Panahi on his part. After all, how could he POSSIBLY support a cause that righties do? It's not like we conservatives have any basic human empathy or anything like that, right? Always an ulterior motive? I can't even support an unjustly imprisoned filmmaker in fascist Iran without being sinister about it? Unbelievable!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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