Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr, who has been in prison since July 2011 and was famously sentenced to one year in prison and 90 lashes for taking part in the film “My Tehran for Sale,” in which she appears without a hijab, has been released from prison and her sentence has been over-turned and commuted, according to Amnesty International.
While the news is obviously a good sign for the actress, I had my doubts that the sentence would ever be carried out. While it was foolish of the Iranian Judiciary to issue such a harsh sentence, giving fuel to right-wing elements of the West who contend that Iran is some backward land, the country’s rules of law seem constantly in flux, issuing ridiculous sentences, then back-tracking from them, or not enforcing them. Remember all the confusion about whether Jafar Panahi was stuck in jail, or just under house arrest. And he even made a film, after all.
Of course, there is still little reason to celebrate about Iran’s human rights abuses and crackdown on artists.
Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui issued this statement following Vafamehr’s release:
“In recent months an increasing number of filmmakers and actors have been targeted for persecution in Iran. While the release of Marzieh Vafamehr is a welcome development, it is deeply worrying that three filmmakers are still being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Their continued detention illustrates the Iranian authorities’ desperate efforts to stifle any form of dissent.”
“These people have done nothing except sell their documentaries to a foreign broadcaster or make a film about a banned director. They should be released immediately and unconditionally. Three of the group – Hadi Afarideh, Naser Saffarian and Mohsen Shahrnazdar – have since been released on bail, but Katayoun Shahabi is thought to remain in custody. Another film director, Mehran Zinatbakhsh, is also believed to have been arrested in September and is being held in Evin Prison. The exact charges against him are not known.”
Documentary director Mojtaba Mir Tahmasb also remains in prison after being arrested on 17 September. He was jailed after making the documentary This is Not a Film about the life of banned film director Jafar Panahi. Panahi was himself sentenced to six years’ imprisonment last December after being convicted of “acting against state security”” and “propaganda against the system”. He was also banned from traveling abroad and talking to domestic or international media.”
“Another internationally-celebrated director, Mohammad Rasoulof, was given a six-year jail term at the same time as Panahi after being convicted on similar charges. He later had his sentence reduced to one year on appeal. A travel ban against him was lifted in May this year. Both Panahi and Rasoulof remain free awaiting the implementation of their sentences.”
“Amnesty considers all these filmmakers to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression in their work. The right to freedom of expression includes the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media”.”