Thursday, June 30, 2011

Iranian Filmmaker & Women's Rights Activist Arrested

Mahnaz Mohammadi, 37 years old, was arrested from her home in Tehran, Iran by security forces. Mahnaz is a prominent Iranian documentary filmmaker and women’s rights activist who has directed several films including “Women without Shadows”, “The Soul’s Children” and “Travelogue.” She also collaborated with Rakhshan Bani-Etemad in “We are Half of Iran’s Population.”

In May, Mahnaz’s passport was seized to prevent her from going to the Cannes Film Festival for the screening of Reza Serkanian’s “Marriage Ephemeral,” in which she plays the lead role. Her arrest on Sunday was the second in three years. In August of 2009, she was arrested for laying a wreath on a woman’s grave who had been killed during protests of the re-election of Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

Mahnaz has been taken to Evin prison, where other activists are also being held, and is being denied access to her family and legal representation.

Two weeks ago, another women’s rights campaigner, Maryam Majd, 25 years old, was arrested before her planned departure to Germany to cover the FIFA Women’s World Cup. She was expecting to meet a former German footballer to work on a book project about women’s sport until she was detained and transferred to Evin. Maryam has also campaigned for women to be allowed to enter football stadiums to watch games.

Amnesty International, along with other human rights groups, has condemned Iran for its targeting of artists and activists. Amnesty stated that the detentions seem to be part of Iran’s ongoing crackdown on journalists, film-makers, activist and lawyers – anyone who challenges Iran’s ideologies. Amnesty has urged the authorities not to torture Mahnaz and Maryam and provide them access to their family and lawyers, so far with no avail.

Mazier Bahari, an Iranian documentary film-maker who has been arrested before said: "Documentary makers are in direct contact with the society and show what's out there, sometimes negative, sometimes positive, but in Iran, where the regime thinks it has the right to intrude in all aspects of the citizens' lives, everything is politicized, and the work of film-makers can be interpreted as a threat to the so-called national security."

Among other filmmakers and activists that have been arrested in the past include director Jafar Panahi, film-maker Mohammad Rasoulof and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.
Amnesty said that if the only reason the women are being held is for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression, then they must be released immediately. Iranian authorities believe otherwise – restricting the expression is their very goal and they justify it based on false “national security” reasons.

While Iran is among the countries that signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both adopted by the United National General Assembly, it openly violates the individual rights it vows to protect. These are only a few of several international agreements committing Iran and other signatory countries to respect rights of freedom of speech, due process and a fair trial, in addition to other individual rights. Yet, without the power to enforce, the United Nations and international human rights organizations can yell as loudly as it can, but our shouts clearly land upon deaf ears.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

China's Persecution of the Falun Gong

Since 1999, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has been persecuting practitioners of Falun Gong. Practitioners have been and continue to be subject to a wide range of human rights abuses, including death, torture, unjustified detaining and arrests. As of July 1999, the CPC declared it a crime to practice Falun Gong in groups, possess its teachings, display banners or symbols or protest the ban.

Falun Gong is a system of beliefs and practices founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992, emerging at the end of China’s “qigong boom” (a period of growth of similar practices). The practice focuses on morality, including truthfulness, compassion and forbearance, and includes teachings from Buddhist and Taoist practices. The movement grew significantly between 1992 and 1999, with about 70 million practitioners in China by 1998.

In the mid-1990’s skeptics and critical reports began to emerge, leading practitioners to respond with peaceful protests, mainly requesting the assurance to lawfully pursue Falun Gong cultivation. In April of 1999, after a protest in Tianjin (which resulted in beatings and arrests) 10,000 practitioners gathered at the residence compound of China’s leaders. As a response, the CPC began a crackdown and campaign against the practice. In July 1999, security forced abducted thousands of Falun Gong leaders, and continued to “eradicate” the group through imprisonment, coercion and many times death. According to the U.S. State Department, about half of China’s reeducation-through-labor camp population is Falun Gong adherents. In addition, practitioners were among those most harshly persecuted by the government in 2008.

The reeducation-through –labor camp was part of the government’s conversion program, attempting to have detainees renounce their beliefs and transform their minds. Reports indicate that disturbing forms of torture have been a part of coercing practitioners who resist renouncing their beliefs. Sever beatings, psychological torment, corporal punishment and intense labor, solitary confinement, heat treatment, electric shocks, deprivation of food and sleep, rape, and more gruesome practices have been used as part of the conversion program by the government. Even faced with such cruel torture and injustice, Falun Gong practitioners remain truthful to their faith, while thousands of them are killed in the process. The Falun Dafa Information Center has reported that over 3,400 Falun Gong adherents have been killed as a result of the torture and abuse.

On June 16, 2005, 37-year-old Gao Rongrong, an accountant from Liaoning Province, was tortured to death in custody. Two years before her death, Ms. Gao had been imprisoned at the Longshan forced labor camp, where she was tortured and badly disfigured with electric shock batons. Gao escaped the labor camp by jumping from a second-floor window, and after pictures of her burned visage were made public, she became a target for recapture by authorities. She was taken back into custody on March 6, 2005, and killed just over three months later. On January 26, 2008, security agents in Beijing stopped popular folk musician Yu Zhou and his wife Xu Na while on their way home from a concert. The 42-year-old Yu Zhou was taken into custody, where authorities attempted to force him to renounce Falun Gong. He was tortured to death within 11 days.

Below are links to two-minute long videos on the Truth-Compassion-Tolerance International Art Exhibit. Connecticut Scotland