Among the dozens of people arrested overnight in Tehran was NEWSWEEK reporter Maziar Bahari, who has covered Iran for the magazine for over a decade. Bahari was home asleep at 7 a.m. when several security officers showed up at his Tehran apartment. According to his mother, who lives with the 41-year-old reporter and documentary filmmaker, the men did not identify themselves. They seized Bahari's laptop and several videotapes. Assuring her that he would be their guest, they then left with Bahari. He has not been heard from since.
In a statement, NEWSWEEK magazine has strongly condemned the detention of Bahari and called for him to be released immediately. Bahari is a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen. According to the statement, "His coverage of Iran, for NEWSWEEK and other outlets, has always been fair and nuanced, and has given full weight to all sides of the issues. He has always worked well with different administrations in Tehran, including the current one."
NEWSWEEK Editor Jon Meacham said, "We are deeply concerned about Mr. Bahari's detention. As a longtime NEWSWEEK reporter he has worked hard to be balanced in his coverage of Iran. We see no reason why he should be held by the authorities. We respectfully ask that they release him as soon as possible."
According to Reporters Without Borders, over 20 Iranian journalists and bloggers have been detained since the disputed presidential elections on June 12. In its statement, NEWSWEEK condemned the seizure of innocent journalists as a violation of the right to a free press in Iran, and called upon world governments to use whatever influence they have to make clear that the detention of Bahari is unwarranted and unacceptable, and to demand his release.
Bahari's arrest came as the Iranian government cracked down after scattered protests on Saturday turned violent. According to Iranian state TV at least 10 people were killed and over 100 injured as supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi took to the streets to protest the legitimacy of the results of the presidential vote. Other estimates put the death toll as high as 19. The government had refused to issue any permits for the protest and deployed thousands of riot police and paramilitaries to prevent demonstrators from gathering. Authorities said that several family members of a powerful Mousavi supporter, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were also arrested for taking part in the protests, although they were later released.
Bahari is a well known figure in Iran. In addition to writing for NEWSWEEK, he is a documentary filmmaker, with at least 10 films to his credit, and a playwright. His movie Along Came a Spider, about a serial killer who was murdering prostitutes in the holy city of Mashad, was the first Iranian documentary to be aired on HBO. He is active in the Iranian Documentary Filmmakers Association, and has worked closely with young Iranians who aspire to be filmmakers. In 2007, the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam organized a retrospective of his work.
For a NEWSWEEK package on Iran earlier this year, Bahari contributed several video profiles of ordinary Iranians.
Bahari is also one of the only filmmakers to work in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. His films have covered subjects as varied as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and his work on the difficulties faced by journalists in Iraq has been especially well regarded.
The Harvard Film Archives had this to say about Bahari's work: "In a country known for neorealist fiction films that focus on small events in the lives of individuals, the work of Iranian director Maziar Bahari is somewhat anomalous. Employing a traditional documentary style to explore more far-reaching cultural events, Bahari's films provide a glimpse inside contemporary Iranian culture as they reveal the human element behind the headlines and capture cultural truths through the lens of individual experience. Representing a new generation of young Iranian filmmakers, Bahari's trenchant looks at social issues in his country have brought both controversy and international acclaim."
He moved to Canada in 1988 to study film and political science and graduated with a degree in Communications at Concordia University Montreal, before returning to Iran to work as a journalist. His first films were made in Canada and he has a home in Toronto. His mother had a simple plea for the Iranian authorities: "I just want Maziar to come home," she said on Sunday night. "I just want my son back."