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Amnesty Int'l: Release Iran Rights Lawyer; 'A Separation' Heads to Oscars

12 Sep 2011 23:45Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

ASoltani01.jpg11:45 p.m., 21 Shahrivar/September 12 Amnesty International has demanded that Iranian authorities immediately release human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, who was arrested on Saturday. According to an AI bulletin,
Soltani, a co-founder with Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi and others of the Center for Human Rights Defenders, was arrested at a Prosecutor's Office in Tehran. His wife told the media that four security officials then escorted him to his home, where they confiscated computers and documents before taking him away.

"Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the bravest human rights defenders in Iran. He has represented defendants in some of the most controversial human rights cases for over a decade, refusing to bow to pressure from the Iranian authorities," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa director. "Now he is again paying the price for that commitment."

Soltani has been arrested several times in the past. In 2005, he spent seven months behind bars, but was eventually acquitted of all charges. He also spent two months in detention in 2009. Amnesty International has previously recognized him as a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his work as a lawyer and defending human rights.

Abroad, his work has won him international recognition. In 2008 the German city of Nuremberg gave him a prestigious human rights award. But a travel ban imposed by the Iranian authorities prevented him from travelling there to receive it.

However, in Iran, he and fellow members of the Center for Human Rights Defenders have been penalized by the authorities who forcibly closed their organization in 2008 and carried out a string of arrests. This clampdown intensified after [the] disputed presidential elections in 2009. Mohammad Seyfzadeh, another co-founder of the center, is currently serving a two-year prison term for his role in founding it.

Among the prominent cases handled by Soltani, he represented the mother of Iranian Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who was murdered while in custody in an Iranian jail in 2003. In addition to Soltani and Seyfzadeh, more than half a dozen other human rights lawyers are currently incarcerated in the Islamic Republic and recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, including PEN Freedom to Write Award recipient Nasrin Sotoudeh and Javid Houtan Kian, who defended Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, once notoriously under sentence to death by stoning for adultery.

***
NaderSiminGlass.jpgA Separation, the widely celebrated film directed by Asghar Farhadi that won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, will be Iran's official candidate at the Academy Awards. As reported by Tehran Bureau, many industry observers in Iran had felt that the film, known in Farsi as Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (Nader and Simin, A Separation), was unlikely despite its acclaim to get the nod for political reasons.

In the description of the Tehran Times,

A board of nine cineastes, which has been assigned by the Farabi Cinematic Foundation, an affiliate to the Ministry of Culture an[d] Islamic Guidance, picks the Iranian submission to the Academy Awards annually.

The board also reviewed "Here without Me", "A Cube of Sugar" and "Alzheimer's" and at last select[ed] "Nader and Simin, a Separation" for the Annual Academy Awards.

Farhadi's previous film "About Elly" also represented the Iranian cinema at the Oscars 2009.

In the early years of the Islamic Republic, Iran did not submit any films for Oscar consideration. The first Iranian candidate for the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film put forward since the 1979 Revolution was Abbas Kiarostami's Through the Olive Trees (1994). Only one Iranian movie during this period has actually received an Oscar nomination: Children of Heaven (1997), directed by Majid Majidi.

***

In other cinema-related news, documentary filmmaker Sean Stone -- son of famed director Oliver Stone -- who was in Iran last week laying the groundwork for a feature on Rumi, the 13th-century poet and Sufi mystic, offered his thoughts on the Islamic Republic and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, upon his return to North America. TheWrap reported from the Toronto Film Festival:

Criticizing the Iranian government is "like someone coming to your house and saying the father shouldn't hit the kids," he said. "Who are we to tell them how to rule their country?" [...]

Meanwhile, in Tehran on Sunday Ahmadinejad gave a speech marking the anniversary of 9/11 by repeating the conspiracy theory that the attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. as a pretext for war.

But Stone said that Ahmadinejad has often been misunderstood.

"He did come to America to extend a hand. And there's a lot of mistranslation, literally, I've seen it. Ahmadinejad will say something and it will be mistranslated," he said. "A lot of this is bullshit, mistranslation. It's an aggressive attitude on both parts, mostly on the American side."

According to TheWrap, Stone did not address the case of Iranian director Jafar Panahi, which has sparked an outcry from cineastes and others around the world. Panahi has been banned from filmmaking for 20 years and faces a six-year jail sentence. His primary "offense" was the fiction film he planned to make about the aftermath of the 2009 election in which Ahmadinejad retained the presidency amid widespread charges of fraud.

Among the other attendees at the Toronto festival is Iranian filmmaker Mazdak Taebi, who has effectively been barred from returning home because of statements he has made in opposition to the regime. He responded with dismay when informed of Stone's views. "This is insulting," said Taebi. "So many people have died. People there are shaking. They're scared. It's a police system."

***

Fabric merchants in the Tehran bazaar who have kept their stores shuttered for weeks in protest at the imposition of a value-added tax are under increasing pressure to end their strike. Radio Zamaneh reports,

Ali Askari, the head of the Tax Revenue Organization, announced that the merchants have until September 22 to register for payment of the value added tax (VAT).

IRNA [the official Islamic Republic News Agency] reports that Askari said Parliament's Presiding Board and Economic Commission had requested a month's extension, but that was declined because the deadline for registration had already been extended three times.

He said a meeting was held between the fabric merchants union and the parliamentary commission, where it was agreed that fabric wholesalers who should have been paying VAT since 2009 would not have to pay the fines levied against them. Despite the agreement, protests have continued, Askari said.

The Value Added Tax is currently set at four percent, but fabric merchants say poor economic conditions have made it difficult for them to charge and pay the tax. [...]

The fabric merchants have called for Parliament's intervention, but Askari says the talks have reached an impasse and the tax laws must be implemented.

Mercantile strikes have regularly disrupted business activity in the bazaars of Iran's major cities since the Ahmadinejad administration first announced the introduction of a VAT three years ago.

***

The semiofficial Fars News Agency reports that new restrictions have been imposed on television programming in the Islamic Republic. According to a Reuters dispatch,

"Based on a new instruction, the broadcasting of programs that show tempting love triangles is banned," Fars said.

Exceptions would be made for shows that explicitly condemned such entanglements, it added.

"Showing half-naked men in Iranian and foreign productions is also banned," the report said, adding that producers were urged not to show "unnecessary mingling" between the sexes.

The statement did not say how the restrictions on partially-clothed men would affect Iran TV's sports coverage.

Existing TV restrictions, imposed soon after the 1979 Revolution, already bar the depiction of intimate relations as well as the depiction of women without hejab, even in the sort of domestic settings and situations where it is not mandated by religious law and implausible in real life.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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