By Brian Brooks | Indiewire June 9, 2011 at 6:56AM
Celebs and filmmakers joined 21,000 others in a petition spearheaded by Amnesty International to free Iranian director Jafar Panahi.
Martin Scorsese, Edward Zwick, Ridley Scott, Phillip Noyce, Ron Howard, Paul Mazursky, and actors Sean Penn, Sir Patrick Stewart and Susan Sarandon joined Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis and actresses Nazanin Boniadi and Trudie Styler in the petition, which calls for the "Lifting of Harsh Sentence Against Acclaimed Iranian Film Director Jafar Panahi."
The delegation, led by Amnesty International USA executive director Larry Cox, was told at first that they would not be allowed to directly hand the petition papers to anyone at the Iran's Mission to the U.N., which is located on an upper floor of a Manhattan office building at 622 Third Avenue, according to Amnesty's website. According to the release, Haggis said he would not leave the lobby unless the Mission accepted the petition.
Amnesty International's official account of Paul Haggis and others' delivery of the petition to free Jafar Panahi:
On behalf of Amnesty International, Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis delivered a stack of 21,000 petition signatures into the hands of an officer of the Iran Mission to the United Nations on Wednesday, demanding the lifting of a harsh sentence against acclaimed Iranian film director Jafar Panahi. Haggis was part of an Amnesty International delegation of Hollywood luminaries, including Iranian-born actress Nazanin Boniadi, film producer and actress Trudie Styler, along with the former imprisoned Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, who joined human rights activists for a demonstration and symbolical renaming of the street outside the Mission offices as "Azadi Square" (Freedom Square).
The petition was signed by Hollywood notables including directors Martin Scorsese, Edward Zwick, Ridley Scott, Phillip Noyce, Ron Howard, Paul Mazursky, and actors Sean Penn, Sir Patrick Stewart, Susan Sarandon and dozens of other bold-faced names.
The delegation, led by Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox, was told at first that they would not be allowed to directly hand the petition papers to anyone at the Mission, located on an upper floor of a Manhattan office building at 622 Third Avenue.
Haggis then told a protocol officer who came to the lobby that he would not leave unless the Mission accepted the petitions. Police were called and after some tense negotiations, the protocol officer agreed to allow Haggis to hand over the foot-high box of paper petitions once they were inspected.
While journalists, who were kept outside, filmed the situation through the lobby windows, Haggis, who wrote the screenplay for Best Film winners Million Dollar Baby and Crash, held up individual petition papers and signed postcards (picturing Panahi), while the unnamed protocol officer inspected each. Finally, Haggis was allowed to pick up the box of materials and hand them to the officer, as activists outside applauded.
"We've done what we came to do - the Iranian government has received our petitions ---- and we hope this will have an impact and change the situation for Jafar Panahi," said Haggis, as he emerged from the Mission lobby.
Earlier, on Third Avenue at 40th Street in front of the Mission, activists gathered with the Hollywood director and actors chanting: "Freedom for Panahi! Free All Prisoners of Conscience in Iran!"
Haggis told the gathering: "I'm Paul Haggis, a filmmaker who is free to exercise my right to freedom of expression, unlike the men for whom we gather today. The treatment of Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof (his artistic collaborator) is an outrageous human rights injustice. Jafar Panahi broke no laws. He expressed his viewpoint peacefully. He questioned his government, following elections in which the outcome seemed less than straightforward. The right to challenge one's government is among the most fundamental of freedoms. "
Larry Cox, the Amnesty executive director, said: "Jafar Panahi's films are celebrated around the world. But the Iranian government wants him silenced because they are afraid that his work will only inspire continuing demands for freedom and basic rights."
Boniadi, an Amnesty International spokesperson since 2009, said: "As an Iranian, it is heartbreaking to see this aggressive and brutal rights clampdown in my home country. As an artist it is inconceivable to me that a filmmaker could be imprisoned, mistreated and denied his livelihood as punishment for statements about his government. The charges against Panahi and Rasoulof are ludicrous. The sentences are inhumane. They must be overturned."
"Freedom of thought and expression is not just a human aspiration - it is actually protected by international human rights standards. Iran has agreed to follow those standards, and we must continue to hold the government to account," said Trudie Styler. "This is Amnesty International's 50th anniversary year; both my husband and I are longtime supporters of this bold human rights organization. And I am so very proud to stand here today to support Amnesty's work to see that the rights of Panahi and Rasoulof are recognized."
The call to reverse the harsh sentence imposed on the two filmmakers is part of Amnesty International's campaign urging the Iranian government to end its clampdown on dissent, including arbitrary arrests of thousands, torture, imposition of harsh prison sentences and the use of the death penalty. Of particular concern is the targeting of trade union members and lawyers, notably those who defend political prisoners, as well as journalists, authors and activists.
Panahi, the director of masterpieces including Badkonake Sefid (White Balloon) and Dayareh (Circle), was held in Tehran's Evin Prison for three months in March 2010 on charges that he made an anti-government film without permission. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison and banned from filmmaking for 20 years. Panahi and Rasoulof have defiantly continued to work and were able to smuggle films out of Iran that were shown at the Cannes Film Festival last month. Panahi's account of his house arrest, shot secretly in his home, is called This is Not a Film.
The full list of VIP signatures on the petitions included, in addition to Haggis, Boniadi, and Styler Hollywood directors/producers/composers/actors Martin Scorsese, Edward Zwick, Ridley Scott, Phillip Noyce, Ron Howard, Paul Mazusky, Harvey Weinstein, Lina Wertmuller, Nancy Meyers, Pamela Fryman, Hans Zimmer, Michael Apted, Sean Penn, Mia Farrow, Gabriel Byrne, Elliott Gould, Harvey Keitel, Sir Patrick Stewart, Josh Brolin, Gale Anne Hurd, Emma Thomas and Susan Sarandon, among others. Artists of Iranian background including Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Googoosh, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Rudi Bakhtiar, Hadi Ghaemi, Hamid Dabashi, and Azar Nafisi also have signed the petition. Journalist Roxana Saberi, who was freed from prison in Iran in a case that Amnesty International raised, added her name.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.