Tag Archives: Soho Theatre

Panahi stages hunger strike

panahi picBen Lewis reports on the campaign to free the outspoken film maker imprisoned by the Iranian regime

Activists in Hands Off the People of Iran have been informed that Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed film maker who has been incarcerated for over two months, has begun a hunger strike in Evin prison.

This is the latest brave step by Panahi, who is increasingly becoming a symbol of resistance. The solidarity he can generate is of grave cause concern for the Islamic Republic, despite its jails, armed thugs and reactionary militias. Panahi fully realises this, and he is using his standing to exert as much pressure on the regime as possible. He has refused offers of bail, saying that he will only accept it when all other political prisoners are released. Like him, the overwhelming majority of these prisoners were arrested as part of the shocking wave of repression unleashed by the regime in response to the enormous protests on the streets of Iran following last June’s rigged presidential elections.

As we have reported previously, Panahi has been subjected to rigorous interrogation in jail. The Evin interrogators appear to be pursuing the tried and tested approach of bombarding him with the same questions over and over again in order to force inconsistencies in his answers, backing this up with the soul-destroying conditions and humiliating treatment for which Evin prison has become infamous.

Last Saturday the authorities kept all inmates in his wing of the prison outside their cells in the open air for the whole night. Next morning he was interrogated once more, this time being accused of secretly working on a film from his cell. He is particularly concerned about some of the new threats that have been made against his family.

There is clearly a lot of work for us in the solidarity movement. We must do what we can to publicise Jafar Panahi’s brave stance, not least using his wonderfully human films. He – and indeed all the other political prisoners in Iran – cannot be allowed to suffer without an outcry. Holywood directors Martin Scorscese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Redford have issued forthright statements demanding his release. At this week’s 63rd Cannes Film Festival there were countless expressions of solidarity. One of the nine chairs for jury members remained empty in his honour. Given Panahi’s reputation internationally, it is quite striking that his case has hitherto been subjected to what John McDonnell MP has described as a “media blackout” in Britain, and we must break through this.

Simultaneously, it is vital ensure that the brutal actions of the Iranian state and its callous treatment of dissenters and critical figures of all kinds should not in any way be misappropriated by the US or UK governments to cover their designs on Iran and the region more generally. At a time when the permanent members of the UN security council – US, UK, China, Russia and France – have agreed on new proposals for a fresh round of sanctions, and when the rightwing Israeli politicians hypocritically hark on about the danger of a “second holocaust”, this is of the utmost importance.

Indeed, given that public opinion is not exactly welcoming the prospect of the further escalation of tension in the Middle East, one of the ways in which the imperialists may attempt to respond is to disingenuously latch on to the cause of Iran’s political prisoners. So there is a danger that the political and cultural establishment in the US and UK could hijack Panahi’s courageous stance for their own nefarious purposes. So we must redouble our campaign for the immediate and unconditional release not only of Panahi, but of all political prisoners, and link this with implacable opposition to imperialist sanctions and threats of war. A fight on two fronts which Hopi has conducted since its inception.

Solidarity success

May 12 saw well over 100 people attend a solidarity screening at London’s Soho Theatre of Panahi’s best known film, Offside, jointly organised by Hopi and the Labour Representation Committee. The event was the first in a series of film showings and solidarity events across the country. The Manchester screening took place on May 18, and there will be a further one in Glasgow on May 21.

The event opened with Soho Theatre’s artistic director, Lisa Goldman, providing a moving account of her work with Panahi on artistic projects in Iran. She was followed by John McDonnell, who outlined the significance of the campaign to free Panahi. “Every movement creates a symbol,” he said. “In refusing bail until all other political prisoners are freed, Jafar is taking a courageous stance that we in Hopi wish to applaud and highlight.” He emphasised the importance of Hopi’s core principles – against war or sanctions on Iran; but no support for the theocracy and unequivocal solidarity with genuinely democratic struggles from below against its rule, especially those of the workers’ movement.

This was a theme British-Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi took up in her opening remarks to the audience, explaining that is why she “loved” Hopi. Offside was certainly a big hit with the audience: stormy applause followed its closing credits. At the end a message of thanks was read out from Panahi’s family.

PCS welcome

Hopi activists have been present this week at the Public and Commercial Services union conference in Brighton and our stall has had a very good response from delegates. PCS has been affiliated to Hopi since 2008 and the annual conference is always a good time to meet PCS militants new and old. Gratifyingly, the response we had from the delegates this year was particularly warm. We distributed some 400 information bulletins on the Jafar Panahi campaign and have already received over 50 signed postcards, which will be sent off in a special batch to Panahi’s family in Iran. We also raised funds for our campaigning work by selling numerous ‘No to war; no to theocracy’ badges and copies of Panahi’s films.

From Weekly Worker 818

Over one hundred people attend solidarity screening of arrested Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi’s Offside at Soho Theatre.

Comedian Shappi Khorsandi and LRC Leader John McDonnell MP
Comedian Shappi Khorsandi and LRC Leader John McDonnell MP

Over one hundred people attend solidarity screening of arrested Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi’s Offside at Soho Theatre.

May 12 saw a well-attended solidarity solidarity screening of Jafar Panahi’s best known film, jointly organised by Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi) and the Labour Representation Committee. The event is part of a series of film showings and solidarity events across the country to raise the profile of Jafar Panahi and others incarcerated for political ‘crimes’ in Iran.

Panahi was arrested on March 1 as part of the Iranian state’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement sparked by the rigged presidential elections in June 2009. He has refused bail until all political prisoners of this  movement are freed.

The event opened with Soho Theatre’s artistic director Lisa Goldman providing a moving account of meeting Panahi in Iran. She was followed by John McDonnell MP outlining the significance of the campaign to free Panahi.

“Every movement creates a symbol” he said. “In refusing bail until all other political prisoners are freed, Jafar is taking a courageous stance that we in Hopi wish to applaud and highlight”. He emphasised the importance of Hopi’s core principles – against war or sanctions on Iran; but no support for the theocracy and unequivocal solidarity with genuinely democratic struggles from below against its rule, especially those of the workers’ movement.

Hopi 3 Shappi
Shappi Khorsandi

This was a theme British-Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi took up in her opening remarks to the audience, explaining that she “loved” Hopi precisely because of this principled stance. Her acutely observed act then interlaced anecdotes drawn from her own background as the daughter of an Iranian activist who had also been persecuted by the Iranian theocracy with observations on the eccentricities of British society from an ‘outsider’.

Panahi’s moving film was a huge hit with the audience; stormy applause followed its closing credits.

Mark Fischer, Hopi national secretary said:

“Tonight was a real success. We are fighting to raise the profile of Jafar Panahi, who in spite of his international prominence as an artist, has been largely ignored by what John McDonnell dubbed in his speech a ‘media blackout’. He – and all political prisoners in Iran – must not be forgotten”.

Panahi’s family sent thanks to the organisers of the event. Hopi has plans for more solidarity events in the near future.

ENDS

Additional Information

Contacts:
Yassamine Mather – 07738 828 540
Mark Fischer – 07950 416 922
Ben Lewis – 07890 437 497

Supporters of Hopi include (for a full list, visit www.hopoi.org/supporters.html):
ASLEF – train drivers union
PCSU – Public and commercial services union
Green Party
Communist Party of Great Britain
Diane Abbott MP – Labour
John McDonnell MP – Labour
Caroline Lucas MP – Green Party
Dr Derek Wall – male principal speaker, Green Party
Bill Bailey – comedian
Haifa Zangana – writer
Ken Loach – film maker
Naomi Klein – author

John Pilger – campaigning journalist
Professor Alan Macfarlane – University of Cambridge
Professor Moshé Machover – King’s College, London
Professor John McIlroy – Keele University
Professor Bridget Fowler – Glasgow University
Professor Christine Cooper – Strathclyde University
Dr Terry Brotherstone – University of Aberdeen UCU
Dr Adam Swift – University of Oxford
Professor Phil Taylor – University of Strathclyde
Professor George Joffe – King’s College, London & University of Cambridge
Peter Jowers – University of the West of England
Professor Guy Julier – Leeds Metropolitan University
Victor Kattan – Research Fellow, British Institute of International & Comparative Law
Dr Gerry Kearns – University of Cambridge
Professor Jeremy Keenan – University of Exeter & University of Bristol
Dr Andrew Cumbers – University of Glasgow
Dr Rolf Czeskleba-Dupont – University of Roskilde
Professor Bill Bowring – Birkbeck College, University of London
Professor Hamid Dabashi – Columbia University
Professor Moataz Fattah – Cairo University

Hopi is a campaign established in 2008 around the central slogans ‘No to imperialist war! No to the theocratic regime!’ As well as British activists, the organisation centrally involves a large number of Iranian exile organisations and individuals who have been forced into exile to avoid arrest and imprisonment.