Islamic McCarthyism

Harsh sentencing of a world-renowned director prompts international protests


Islamic McCarthyism
by Omid Memarian

When world-renowned filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison earlier this week, the verdict reverberated both inside and outside Iran.

Not only did authorities in Tehran hand down an exceptionally harsh sentence, they also decreed that the 50-year-old Panahi will be banned from filmmaking, screenwriting and traveling abroad for the next 20 years. According to his relatives, Panahi has also been banned from talking to the media.

Along with Panahi, Muhammad Rasoulof, another filmmaker involved with Panahi’s movie, was also sentenced to six years in prison.

Actors and filmmakers the world over have signed a petition, calling for Panahi’s release.

"I was shocked and disheartened by the news of Jafar Panahi and Mohammed Rasoulof's conviction and sentencing," director Martin Scorsese said in a statement this week. "It's depressing to imagine a society with so little faith in its own citizens that it feels compelled to lock up anyone with a contrary opinion. As filmmakers, we all need to stand up for Panahi and Rasoulof. We should applaud their courage and campaign aggressively for their immediate release."

The journalist and movie critic described the censorship and arrests as “nothing but Islamic McCarthyism.”

And on Tuesday, the U.N. General Assembly expressed its “deep concern” about “recurring human rights violations in Iran” by approving a resolution that noted the severe limitations on freedom of thought and freedom of religion in Iran. The resolution criticized arbitrary arrests as well as the long prison sentences handed out for prisoners of conscience.

“Mr. Panahi’s sentence is an alarming message to all in the Iranian film industry,” said Narges Kalhor, an Iranian film director, who is also the daughter of Mehdi Kalhor, the cultural adviser to Ahmadinejad. Narges Kalhor fled Iran last year, protesting the lack of freedom of speech.

“They are basically saying that you are either with us, making films for us, or you should sit at home,” she said, adding that directors and writers have been systematically barred from work. “Panahi’s sentence just shows that they have become very comfortable in putting such severe restrictions on paper.”

The crackdown, observers said, is yet another indication of how the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying to quell dissent and tighten its grip on power. Panahi, and other critical independent filmmakers, are banned from showing their films in Iran.

The twin sentences of the filmmakers comes on the heels of several high-profile verdicts, including that of Jila Baniyaghoub, an Iranian journalist who, a few months ago, was sentenced to one year in prison and a 30-year ban on journalistic activities. Last year, another prominent journalist and political analyst, Ahmad Zeidabadi, was sentenced to six years in prison; five years in exile in Gonabad, and a lifetime ban on social and political activities, including interviews, speeches, commentary and participation and support of political parties.

"The government is saying that if you don’t think like us, leave the country before you end up in jail – or be banned from your profession for life,” another journalist in Iran told The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity. “Panahi did not leave the country, and now he has to pay the price.”

The journalist and movie critic described the censorship and arrests as “nothing but Islamic McCarthyism.”

“The only people who have complete freedom of expression and can say whatever they want are the Supreme Leader and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  It is suppression for everyone else," he added.

First published in

Omid Memarian is columnist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. He was a World Peace Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in 2007-2009 and the 2005 recipient of the ‘Human Rights Defender Award’, the highest honor bestowed by Human Rights Watch.


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Number of comments doesn't resolve or mean anything.

by Anonymouse on

When the story of Sakineh came out was it the number of comments on that made her famous?  No.  It was her lawyer and son who pleaded to the international community and the story received a life of its own.  Now her poster is everywhere in Europe and she is a household name in the human rights communities and generally around the world.

Jafar Panahi is getting his own exposure and his story is going to gain momentum as time goes by and knowing Panahi he won't sit still and say and do nothing.  When he was in prison he went on a hunger strike and we'll see what he'll do next.

This harsh and unjust sentence will be read all over the world and when the time comes we'll have to do our part but commenting here means nothing really.  And even if there were 2000 comments what would they say other than this is "another" injustice. 

Everything is sacred


Where are the comments...?

by Monda on

Although I don't believe the number of comments on important articles here should be interpreted as sign for Real actions or inactions. However, after reading your comment below, I am compelled to express here that I am in fact very intrigued, impacted, emotionally mobilized by Omid Memarian's excellent article, And your suggestion about a massive protest regarding Panahi's tragic verdict. 

Our community may feel Hopeless about the Tragic sentences inside our motherland, to the point of behaving demobilized, desensitized. But, I'd give this collective reaction some time. Then if there are people in our community who are willing to take the risks of having Loud Effective Protests, by having a Festival of Panahi's films - I AM There with my heart and soul, physical and mental energy and anything material that I have.

This McCarthyism that Omid wrote about, is Extremely Destructive to the core of our humanity, inside and outside of Iran.

I am at this point somewhat clueless about how to initiate a steering committee protesting the deadly injustice against Panahi. But if I / you can help in terms of Action, please advise.   

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


The degree of fairness is not a matter of how famour you are. Law must be equal and just. Islamic law is unjust no matter who gets it. Of course this is a travesty of justice. But it would be no better the the person being jailed was some "Bahram" or some "Ghobad" whom no one knows. It would be just as bad.Wrong is wrong no matter who is the victim of it and what his or her accomplishements are.

I suggest thr world pay back Islamism in kind.All Islamic preaching to be banned for the next 20 years. Islamist preachers be jailed for 6 years and never allowed to speak to media. If they don't like it they can go to Gitmo and preach there. I hear one of them actually islamized some moron soldier.


Indeed two very very sad

by Arthimis on

Indeed two very very sad cases here , but please remember despite the ultimate injustice to both here, at least they have an open sympathy of famous world actors and film makers such as director Martin Scorsese!!! How about thousands of other innocent Iranians in I.R. prisons that have no voice? No one but their family and friends who know them only and can't do anything to free them!!! The ones that are unknown to all these groups of famous people!!!

Iran and Iranians have been attacked and violated on ever level by these so called Islamic Republic criminals for so long and with the help of world economical super powers/big corporations who brought and installed them in Iran in the first place!!!

Iranians will break FREE someday and only GOD can help the guilty parties!!! which he/she/it never will !!!

Free Iran and Iranians. 

Multiple Personality Disorder

One tragedy after another

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

Our most brilliant people are going to prison, one after another.  That's tragic.


Where are the comments...?

by bahmani on

Q: How do you know oppression is working?

A: Look at the number of comments on this important story.

I sincerely hope that the lack of outrage is due to everyone still being on holiday, and not apathetic or lack of sympathy for the obvious attack on a variety of freedoms, with one fell swoop of this sentence.

...We should have nothing short of a festival and celebration of his films now...

Maryam Hojjat

Down with IRI/ IRR

by Maryam Hojjat on

and all their supporters.