Support Panahi

He deserves the support of all democrats, socialists, and genuine anti-imperialists, argues Tina Becker

Despite reports to the contrary, film-maker Jafar Panahi - director of Offside, Crimson gold and The circle and critic of the theocratic regime, has still not officially been charged with any crime since his arrest on March 1. Some of his close friends have told us that in solidarity with all those political prisoners languishing behind bars, he still insists he will stay in prison until they are released and has therefore refused bail.

In February, the Iranian authorities banned Panahi from leaving the country to attend the Berlin Film Festival. Then, in March, the police raided his house and arrested him, along with 16 other people, including his wife and daughter and six democracy activists. Fourteen of those detained have been freed so far.

However, it seems the regime is still not quite sure what to do with him. Soon after Panahi’s arrest, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said the film-maker had not been detained for political reasons, but was “accused of some crimes and arrested with another person following an order by a judge”. On April 14, culture minister Mohammad Hosseini further specified those ‘non-political’ crimes. He told reporters that “the culture and Islamic guidance ministry asked the judiciary and the security authorities about the arrest of Mr Panahi and they told us that it is a security case. They informed us that this director was making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed the election.”

It seems that Panahi was spotted outside the gates of the infamous Evin prison. Apparently, he was waiting to interview prisoners being released, as well as the families of those still being held in prison, who had been arrested after the protests that erupted following last year’s rigged presidential poll.

And last week Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said that he also remains behind prison bars because “he is against war” and a member of Iran’s National Peace Council. You would think that the Iranian theocracy was also less then keen on imperialist threats to drop bombs on the country. But quite the opposite. The warmongers in Washington are helping president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the theocracy to continue to cling to power. He has been able to keep a significant section of the Iranian population behind him because of anti-American posturing.

Of course, we have plenty of criticisms of Ebadi and her alternative to the theocracy is full of dangers. She is under the illusion that the democracy movement could, at least to some degree, be aided by imperialism. For example, she supports “political sanctions” on Iran, but opposes economic ones - as if you could make that kind of distinction, especially with the Revolutionary Guards in control of much of Iran’s economy and infrastructure.

The example of neighbouring Iraq shows exactly what kind of ‘democracy’ imperialism has in mind. Despite the rhetoric, the UN does not care about ‘human rights’ when it moves to impose yet further sanctions. The US wants to bring Iran to its knees - to make it a more exploitable as part of the capitalist global order. If the communist and socialist trends within the opposition movement were stronger or organised enough to take the lead in the ongoing democracy struggle, imperialism would undoubtedly be quick to drop its (already rather half-hearted) support.

The democracy movement is in an ideologically fluid state and is potentially revolutionary.  It is far from being a mere tool in the hands of US-UK imperialism, as some of the wackier groups on the American and British left claim. Large sections of the opposition are against not only their own theocratic regime: they also know what international capitalism brings.

At the behest of the International Monetary Fund, Ahmadinejad has imposed many neoliberal ‘reforms’ on the country. The ensuing privatisations, wage freezes and social spending cuts have led to a deep economic crisis that has worsened dramatically with the global downturn. Many workers are on temporary contracts and have not been paid for months. Others have lost their jobs altogether when their employers went bust. The existing sanctions have only made matters worse. Sanctions weaken the most dynamic and resolute section of the democracy movement, the working class. Working people are forced to concentrate on day-to-day survival rather than organise against the oppressive regime.

Jafar Panahi is acutely aware of this problem and as a consequence has never called for sanctions. Although no Marxist, Panahi is a brave example of the countless people in Iran who are opposed not only to the theocracy, but also to imperialist solutions of all kinds. He deserves the support of all democrats, socialists, and genuine anti-imperialists.


Solidarity screenings of Offside

London (co-sponsored by Labour Representation Committee):
Wednesday May 12, 6pm, Soho Theatre, Dean Street, W1. With comedy from Shappi Khorsandi and introductions by John McDonnell MP and Lisa Goldman, artistic director of the Soho Theatre, who met Panahi shortly before he was arrested.

Thursday May 20, 6.30pm, Student Union, Manchester University, Oxford Road, M13.

Friday May 21, 7pm, Centre for Contemporary Arts, 350 Sauchiehall Street, G2.

All profits to Workers Fund Iran.