Nearly 300 of the world's most respected authors, filmmakers, and journalists have put their names to petitions this week calling on the Iranian government to release NEWSWEEK correspondent and documentary film director Maziar Bahari from prison. He has been held since June 21 in Tehran without access to a lawyer or the ability to see his family, even though no formal charges have been brought against him.
Among more than 100 authors who signed a letter sent to authorities in Tehran by PEN American Center and PEN Canada on Thursday were Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk of Turkey, Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, and Nadine Gordimer of South Africa. Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga is on the list, as is Italy's Umberto Eco. Martin Amis and Paul Auster, Mario Vargas Llosa, Don DeLillo, E. L. Doctorow, Ha Jin, Ian McEwan, Michael Ondaatje, Zadie Smith, and Saadi Youssef all call on the Iranian government "to release Mr. Bahari, and all others detained in connection with their post-election reporting in Iran, immediately and without condition."
While careful to avoid confrontational language and any comment on the internal Iranian dispute over the June 12 election results, the PEN petition and others underscore how closely the world is following the cases of individual detainees in Iran. The range of signatories also speaks to the diversity of Bahari's work not only as a journalist, but also as a filmmaker and playwright.
Another petition was compiled by three international press-freedom groups: the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Index on Censorship, and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Among them they gathered signatures of prominent correspondents and editors from Yemen and the Palestinian territories, Turkey and Mexico, Russia, Venezuela, Italy, Brazil, Chile, China—47 countries in all. Among the best-known American signers are New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and CNN's Christiane Amanpour, as well as the iconoclastic linguist and essayist Noam Chomsky. French journalist Mariane Pearl is a signatory, as is Nicaraguan author and intellectual Sergio Ramírez.
The Canadians are especially sensitive about the detention of Bahari, who is a dual Canadian-Iranian national. In the press release issued by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the group pointedly recalled the case of dual national Zahra Kazemi, who was arrested in Tehran and died in prison there in 2003. "Canadians have already tragically lost one colleague in Iran," said CJFE executive director Annie Game, "so we are heartened that the international community of journalists is standing together to call for Bahari's release from prison."
Scores of Bahari's filmmaking colleagues from 22 countries, including German director Wim Wenders, have added their voices to the clamor for him to be freed. "We support Maziar Bahari unconditionally," says Ally Derks, director of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, the largest event of its kind in Europe. The IDFA presented a retrospective of Bahari's work in 2007.
As the outpouring of appeals for Bahari's release makes clear, he is not only a respected artist and journalist, he is also a symbol of the hope—and the need—for fair and culturally sensitive reporters to have the freedom to work, to observe firsthand, and to help open the eyes of the world.