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.

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