Archive for the 'films' Category

Festivals and Human Rights NGOs Call For Release Of Belarus Festival Director Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska

April 15, 2021

Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska
Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska Watch Docs Film Festival

Tom Grater in Deadline.com of 14 April 2021 reports how an unusual collective of human rights organizations, film festivals and industry have called for the release of Tatsiana (Tanya) Hatsura-Yavorska, the director of the Watch Docs Festival in Belarus, who was arrested on April 5 for her role in organizing an underground photo exhibition celebrating health workers.

The Human Rights Film Network and the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk have put out a joint open letter calling on authorities to release Hatsura-Yavorska, who is regarded as a political prisoner, as well as others who have been incarcerated in the country. The letter has been signed by a broad selection of film festivals and organizations including Sundance and Berlin.

“We urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release our colleague Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska and other human rights defenders, and to end acts of judicial harassment against them,” the letter reads. You can see it in full here.

Following the event that she jointly organized, which was titled Machine Is Breathing, and I Am Not and was dedicated to the country’s medics and their battle during the pandemic, Hatsura-Yavorska was initially fined 700 Belarusian rubles for “protesting against police” and placed in a detention facility. She has not been released and is now facing trial on charges of ‘raising money for protests’, with her court hearing set to take place 16 April according to those close to her. It is thought she could face several years in prison.

Maciej Nowicki, Director of Poland’s Watch Docs Film Festival, told Deadline that “it is still unclear on what grounds” Hatsura-Yavorska is being prosecuted.

“Numerous reports by the UN, other international organizations and NGOs, unfortunately, have documented various types of violations of law and human rights in Belarus, including the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. This is why we are truly concerned about Tanya,” he continued. “Tanya is an amazing and beautiful person, as well as a very strong one. But now she needs our solidarity.”

A collection of Belarusian organizations and associations also released a statement this weekend, which read: “We consider the persecution of Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska by the authorities to be politically motivated, aimed at stopping her public and non-violent activities aimed at protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/b5785052-8efa-42e7-8508-d6de0a8c1b3d

Elsewhere, Filmmaker Mark Cousins penned an article for The Guardian expressing his support for Hatsura-Yavorska, detailing how he interacted with the festival exec though his work with the Belfast Film Festival. “Nonfiction cinema is our lingua franca. Those who speak it to governments should be defended,” Cousins wrote.

https://deadline.com/2021/04/call-for-release-imprisoned-belarus-fest-director-tatsiana-hatsura-yavorska-1234734095/

Victims of ‘forced confessions’ urge Western TV channels to ban Chinese TV

April 12, 2021

Erkin Tursun, a former TV producer whom officials said is serving a 20-year sentence in Xinjiang province, is seen speaking in a video shown at a news conference in Beijing, China on April 9, 2021.
Erkin Tursun, a former TV producer whom officials said is serving a 20-year sentence in Xinjiang province, is seen speaking in a video shown at a news conference in Beijing, China on April 9, 2021. © Reuters TV via Reuters

NEWS WIRES of 12 April 2021 reports that thirteen people who describe themselves as “victims of forced confessions broadcast on Chinese television” are urging European satellite operator Eutelsat to reconsider carrying Chinese channels CGTN and CCTV4.

The letter published by human rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders details a list of violations that the signatories say China is guilty of using to extort confessions from them and “refuse the right to a fair trial”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/12/how-china-extracts-televised-confessions-from-human-rights-defenders/]

We are asking you… to determine whether television providers in democratic societies ought to continue to be morally complicit in the broadcast of information that is intentionally twisted and obtained through torture,” the group said. 

We are only a dozen victims able to speak out…. Many other victims are in prison. A few have been executed...The victims have no way of demanding reparations. The only way to stop this is for television regulators to investigate and take measures,” the group added. 

The letter notes Australian public broadcaster SBS stopped using content from Chinese state-run television in March pending a review of human rights concerns.

The UK also fined CGTN for partiality and violation of privacy and removed it from the airwaves, a ban that pushed the channel to set up shop in France. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/08/forced-television-confessions-in-china-lead-to-request-to-ban-cctv-in-uk/]

French audiovisual regulator CSA determined in March that CGTN met the technical criteria necessary for broadcasting but just this week Safeguard Defenders submitted two complaints against the channel. 

One cited an allegedly coerced interview with a Uighur child and the other was a defamation complaint from German researcher Adrian Zenz, whose reports on the treatment of Uighurs in China’s western Xinjiang region have drawn rebukes from Beijing.

The signatories are from China and other countries, including Chinese human rights lawyers Bao Longjun and Jiang Tianyong who have been targeted by authorities in their country. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/29/the-remarkable-crackdown-on-lawyers-in-china-in-july-2015/]

Simon Cheng, a former British consulate staffer in Hong Kong, who was granted asylum in the UK after allegedly being tortured by Chinese secret police also signed the letter. 

Also giving support is Swedish activist and Safeguard Defenders co-founder Peter Dahlin, who spent three weeks in jail in 2016 before being expelled from the country as a national security threat.

Angela Gui, daughter of Gui Minhai who published in Hong Kong until he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2020, signed on behalf of her father. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/25/gui-minhai-10-years-jail-sentence-in-china/]

https://www.france24.com/en/asia-pacific/20210411-victims-of-forced-confessions-urge-western-powers-to-ban-chinese-tv-channels

https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/forced-confession-victims-urge-chinese-tv-channels-ban-2411414

Geneva Film Festival: Grand Prize of Geneva to “Shadow Game”

March 16, 2021

KRO-NCRV Shadow Game Documentary Won Awards at Geneva Film Festival |  Currently

The 19th Geneva’s International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) has wrapped its first digital edition with the announcement of its winners. Running from 5 to 14 March, the event gathered nearly 45,000 people who watched the films, debates and various content available online. “While we regret not having been able to open this Festival to a physical audience, some of the experiments carried out this year will be perpetuated. We must pay tribute to the FIFDH team, which has been able to adapt to many challenges with increased energy,” mentioned general director Isabelle Gattiker.

Starting with the Creative Documentary Competition, the jury headed by Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, and featuring Lamia Maria Abillama, Yulia Mahr, and Arnaud Robert, bestowed the Grand Prize of Geneva valued at CHF 10,000 – offered by the city and state of Geneva – upon Shadow Game by Eefje Blankevoort and Els Van Driel. The jury’s statement mentions that the film “deals with a crucial issue in modern time: young migrants alone on their road, trying to cross boundaries and as they say: ‘playing their game’. With the use of videos and social media material produced by the teenagers themselves, it has innovative filmmaking, and it is pushing cinematic boundaries in many ways.

Shadow Game also picked the Youth Jury Prize, as it “brings to our attention the fact that we need not look far to find human rights’ violations. This confrontation makes it necessary to take greater responsibility at the sight of this injustice and to abandon the often-stereotypical image of migrants,” the jury stated.

The CHF 5,000 Gilda Vieira de Mello Prize in tribute to her son Sergio Vieira de Mello, went to Downstream to Kinshasa [+] by Dieudo Hamadi for its “powerful and brave character-orientated filmmaking, about reparations for forgotten communities who endured atrocities (the Six-Day War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2000). This film is haunting and shows such a rage of the protagonists seeking justice and reparations.” Once Upon a Time in Venezuela [+] by Anabel Rodríguez Ríos received a Special Mention by the jury as the director “approaches the protagonists in a very crude and yet subtle way, showing brilliantly the inextricable relation between industrial pollution, political and electoral constraints as well as citizens’ welfare.”

In the Fiction Competition, the Grand Prize Fiction and Human Rights, valued at CHF 10,000 and offered by the Hélène and Victor Barbour Foundation, went to Veins of the World [+] by Byambasuren Davaa as it “points beyond itself, towards a formless totality, a shared human experience often forgotten and instantly remembered where the beauty and pain of a profoundly essential human longing is unearthed and laid bare,” according to the jury presided by American filmmaker Danielle Lessovitz, with Santiago Amigorena, Laïla Marrakchi and Philippe Cottier. The film also won the Youth Jury Prize.

The Special Mention went to Should the Wind Drop [+] by Nora Martirosyan, “an important film, especially in the current context where borders are moving and closing and where it is difficult to travel.”

Finally, in the Grand Reportage Competition, the CHF 5,000 Prize of OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), went to Coded Bias by Shalini Kantayya which, according to the jury, “powerfully depicts the threats that artificial intelligence poses to our liberties, including by hardwiring into algorithms racist and sexist biases.” The Public Award went to Dear Future Children [+] by Franz Böhm, which received CHF 5,000 from the FIFDH.

https://www.baltimoregaylife.com/kro-ncrv-shadow-game-documentary-won-awards-at-geneva-film-festival-currently/

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/film-festival-in-geneva-showcases-youth-migrant-struggles-in-top-honours/46447346

https://www.cineuropa.org/en/newsdetail/398837

‘Beijing Spring’ The Story of Chi Xiaoning and His Smuggled Camera

March 6, 2021

Revealed for the first time: Reminiscent of what is happening in Hong Kong today, this is a story about underground film-making, radical art, and censorship. In 1979, Chi Xiaoning created his “Film of Star Group Activities of 1979.” It is the only known video documenting the radical activities of the Stars Group, avant-garde artists from China who championed individuality and freedom of expression. The only copy of the footage is in the M+ Collections in Hong Kong. American film-maker Andy Cohen, a regular Global Insights Magazine contributor, portrays this story in his 2020 film ‘Beijing Spring’, which is being premiered internationally at the Geneva Human Rights Film Festival (FIFDH) in March, 2021. [see https://fifdh.org/en/2021/film/120-beijing-spring]

In Global Geneva of 11 February 2021 Andy Cohen writes about the challenges behind Chi Xiaoning’s daring film-making during a period that was subject to severe censorship in favour of official propaganda art.

Stars Protest March Demanding Artistic Freedom— Beijing, National Day (1979) (Photo: ©Wang Rui)

Before the 1980s, documentary films in China were mostly propaganda made to serve the ideological purposes of the Communist Party. Views critical of the party were prohibited. Only one official voice could be heard: that of the government. Film-makers obeyed Mao Zedong’s dictum that artists’ works should reflect the lives of the masses — the workers, peasants, and soldiers—for whom they were made. These films, scripted and staged using ‘model people’ instead of ordinary subjects, were crafted in a dogmatic, formulaic style that put a positive spin on government policies.

By 1979, however, the political tide in the People’s Republic had turned and the scent of reform began to fill the air, heralding what would become known as the Beijing Spring. Mao Zedong had died a few years earlier, and the nation had begun to reawaken after thirty years of oppression that had claimed more than fifty million lives. Deng Xiaoping, the new ‘paramount leader’, experimented with not only economic reforms but also loosening restrictions on freedom of speech. He even tolerated the open postings of government criticisms in one easily monitored locale in central Beijing — a long brick wall running along Xidan Street just west of Tiananmen Square that came to be known as Democracy Wall.

Originally intended for workers and peasants to post the grievances they’d suffered during the Cultural Revolution, the wall was quickly overtaken by artists and activists, who seized the opportunity to post their radical works in such a prominent place. These artworks and writings not only exposed the suffering the country had been through but also focused on the present plights of ordinary people, emphasising that every individual is unique, equal, and imbued with the right to openly express thoughts and emotions without being crushed or silenced.

A young Beijing film-maker named Chi Xiaoning used this moment to shoot an unofficial documentary about the Democracy Wall movement in a style different from its predecessors. Chi chose to focus his film on the daring activities of one specific group that had arisen from the underground magazine Today: a band of artists who called themselves the Stars Group (Xingxing). Explaining the imagery behind the choice of the name, the group’s co-founder Ma Desheng said: ‘When I was growing up there was only one star in the sky: the red sun, Mao Zedong. Many stars mean many people. Every individual is a star.’

In order to realise his vision, Chi needed to overcome one major obstacle: finding a camera and film stock, both of which were unavailable to the average person. Luckily for Chi, his faithful friend Ren Shulin was among the precious few who not only knew how to operate a camera but actually had access to one.

In May 1979, Ren was assigned to work at the Institute of Coal and Carbon Science. His job was to film official documentaries about safety in coal mines. ‘To smuggle one or two boxes of film out of my service was easy. To get more? That took some time. And to get the movie camera out — that racked my brains,” Ren later stated. In the end, Ren succeeded and the two began filming on 27 September, 1979, the first day that the Stars Group hung an unofficial exhibition on the perimeter fence outside of Beijing’s China Art Gallery (now known as the National Art Museum of China). Simultaneously, an official propaganda art show was being held inside the space.

Adding to this paradox was the name of the film Ren had smuggled out: Every Generation Is Red (Dai Dai Hong). Ren’s knowledge and courage enabled him to play the crucial role of camera assistant, steadily unloading and reloading the reels under the cover of trees at the eastern wall of the gallery. By keeping the film stock safe from the crowds, avoiding the scrutiny of undercover police, and feeding him reels, Ren enabled Chi to continuously film the Stars exhibition on the fence.

The camera Ren smuggled out was a hand-wound Gansu’s Light model (Gan Guang). This made Chi’s already difficult task all the more so, as he aimed to capture real events unfolding in real time. A fully wound camera could shoot for only thirty seconds, and an entire box of film produced only three minutes of footage. This time constraint, coupled with having to avoid the police, tested Chi’s improvisational style.

Filmmaker Chi Xiaoning on Top of Democracy Wall (1979)  (Photo: ©Wang Rui) 

Chi climbed the back of the fence to capture the impressions of onlookers as they stared at the artworks with shock and awe. Chi’s method, like the Stars artists’, focused on ordinary people such as factory workers, teachers with students, and the elderly. He recorded their genuine emotions and free expressions typically hidden beneath the outer masks that had become the default after years of toeing the party line.

The fact the Stars artists also employed original, modernist styles and content, utilising free forms and abstraction, added a meta-artistic layer to the undertaking. Chi shot an avant-garde film about avant-garde artists during a time when the act of filming was also considered an act of protest. This was art for art’s sake, produced about and with the aim of freedom of expression. Chi’s lens revealed faces viewing never-before-seen artworks that challenged the aesthetic conventions of the party, and that depicted the naked female body in twisted modern forms. The first day was a success for both the Stars artists and the greater artistic principle.

Early the next morning, Chi and Ren were back at the fence, locked, loaded, and ready to film, when the police suddenly arrived to take down the Stars Group exhibit. As the police closed in, Chi wound his way through the crowds, in and out of the chaos ‘like a wartime journalist in a battlefield’, as Ren later described it. After tearing the art off the fence, the police surrounded Chi and Ren. They had no chance to escape. The police confiscated the camera from Chi. From Ren, they took the camera bag containing the used and unused film stock.

“I was very nervous,” Ren recounted. “If the camera was confiscated, I’d be fired from my job at the institute. But Xiaoning was calm, arguing with the other side.” After being kept in a windowless room inside the museum for hours, the film and the camera were abruptly and inexplicably returned to Chi and Ren. For some reason, the authorities’ mood was sympathetic to the artists that day.

Stars Artists Group Portrait (1980)  (Photo: ©Helmut Opletal)

The Stars Group artists, on the other hand, were angry that their show had been terminated and their artworks confiscated. Together with other political activists, they planned a protest rally and march. Everyone knew this could mean jail time for the ringleaders.

The Stars rally was an enormous provocation to the Communist leaders — it was reported on and documented by foreign media at the time — and it was planned for 1 October: National Day and the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. The big parade had been cancelled in light of Mao’s death in 1976; now, in its stead, the Stars and their supporters took it upon themselves to march from Democracy Wall to the Municipal Building. Chi planned to film it but told Ren not to assist him. If caught, there was no sense in both of them going to jail, as he would need Ren to develop the reels and edit the film.

Chi stood atop Democracy Wall, filming as the rally began. When the group headed for the Municipal Building, Chi and his camera weaved in and out. He went inside factories and shot from windows to capture workers’ perspectives; he zoomed in on passengers’ reactions as they peered from the windows of passing buses; he filmed the crowds of protestors marching along rainy streets, zooming in on their puddle-pounding feet.

While the crowds marched on, Ren waited anxiously all day for news of his friend. This was an era before cell phones and pagers. It was inevitable that, with a 16mm camera in hand, filming in highly visible locations, Chi once again attracted the omnipresent authorities’ attention. When asked how Chi had saved his film, Stars Group artist and friend Wang Keping recounted that Chi had told him he’d exposed the part that had not yet been filmed, tricking the police into thinking it was useless. Beyond showcasing his enormous talent, what makes Chi’s footage even more spectacular and immediate is the constant risk of arrest he faced while filming.

In stark contrast to his main action footage of the protest march, Chi also shot B-roll focusing on scenes by the lake in the park of the Old Summer Palace. In its deceptively quiet manner, however, the B-roll is just as avant-garde. From the weather conditions it is evident that he filmed on two different occasions. On the first day, the water was calm, as were the demeanours of the subjects—rowing on the lake, playing guitars or mah-jong, strolling along tree-lined trails, and picnicking. This idleness was diametrically opposed to the ‘heroic’ actions of the ‘model people’ in official documentaries. The calmness of the lake mirrors the first quiet day of the exhibit.

Artist Ma Desheng Speech at Democracy Wall (1979) (Photo: ©Wang Rui)

On the second day of B-roll, the wind was flapping the red flags on the bridge and bending the branches of trees, reflecting the chaos of the protest march. Chi’s use of contrasting weather filmed at the park echoes the inner emotions of his subjects as well as the political events surrounding them. The B-roll shows close-ups of everyday objects with an anthropomorphic introspection: the empty rowboats lined up like cadres, crates of empty soda bottles (Coca-Cola had just entered China in December 1978), goldfish swimming in a vendor’s water-filled plastic bag—all shots considered unsuitable for documentaries at the time.

When asked why the style of this footage can now be considered groundbreaking, Ren replied, “Documentary films in China were almost all propaganda, not the expression of the author himself. We were conscious of this, so our film, from idea to structure to visual language, was different from documentaries of that time.”

Despite its significance, almost no one knew about this unfinished film until recently. In total, it comprises forty-seven minutes of raw footage, out of sequence, that was hidden from the authorities for the past thirty-five years. Fearing for the safety of his friends and his family, Chi hid the salvaged footage in a confidant’s home, swearing him to secrecy.

After Chi’s untimely death in 2007, no one knew the whereabouts of the footage, not even Ren, as it had been kept underground, passed from friend to friend. The footage was eventually recovered and the only copy now resides in the M+ Collections.

Film of Star Group Activities of 1979 by Chi Xiaoning and Ren Shulin reflects on and documents the social, cultural, and political changes that took place during the Beijing Spring. This treasure trove will be mined for years to come by film-makers, historians, and art historians alike. This pivotal moment in China’s history, which gave birth to its democracy movement, could not have been possible without the powerful combination of art and activism that coalesced at Democracy Wall. And because of the courageous feats of one documentarian and his assistant cameraman, history will forever have the visual accounts of those exciting times.


Andy Cohen is an American documentary film-maker, journalist and author based in Geneva. Much of his work is investigative and human rights-based. Cohen’s films have been shown at the FIFDH Geneva, Venice Film Festival, Telluride, Tribeca, Traverse City, Toronto International Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival, among others, and broadcast on PBS, BBC, UK Ch4, ARTE, Netflix, and Amazon.For more information about AC Films, please go to his website.

A version of this article was first published by M+ HK.

Andy Cohen

Beijing Spring’ is scheduled for its International Premier at the Human Rights Film Festival in Geneva (FIFDH), which takes placed 5-14 March, 2021. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/06/2021-edition-of-geneva-film-festival-kicks-off-in-virtual-format/

2021 edition of Geneva film festival kicks off in virtual format

March 6, 2021

The FIFDH kicks off in virtual format for its 19th edition
  • Wolfgang Spindler  reported on 0 March 2021 that the 19th edition of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva has gone virtual. Usually every year some 40 000 visitors attend to watch and discuss films that focus on human rights violations. Around 300 filmmakers, human rights defenders and politicians from 25 countries across the globe used to be invited. But, this year, the festival has been forced to change and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants are now encouraged to click on ‘likes‘ instead of applauding, as physical presence is not possible.

Isabelle Gattiker is the FIFDH Festival Director. She said that the festival had to reinvent itself. They are proposing videos on demand, that she describes as not being able to replace real cinema theatres. But they have tried “to work on public participation despite the digital format”. Online audiences can comment and ask questions during the showings every evening from 8 pm (CET) from anywhere on the planet.

For the first time ever there will also be a public award, where the viewers can give a mark to the films they’ve watched. At the end of the festival, the film with the highest rating from the official selection will be awarded this prize.

Soltan Achilova This 19th edition is dedicated to Turkmenistan Photojournalist, Soltan Achilova. The 71-year-old was amongst this year’s finalists for the “Martin Ennals Award“, an annual prize known as “the Nobel prize for human rights defenders. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/23/soltan-achilova-has-issued-a-rare-rebuke-of-the-turkmen-president-on-youtube/

https://www.euronews.com/2021/03/05/the-fifdh-kicks-off-in-virtual-format-for-its-19th-edition

https://fifdh.org/en/program-2021

Free Visual content for human rights campaigns: a marvellous initiative

March 4, 2021

Illustration: Cachetejack for Fine Acts
Illustration: Cachetejack for Fine Acts

The future of human rights must be hopeful.When we only show the abuses, people start to believe that we live in a world of crisis with no alternative. We believe that the image of human rights needs to be reimagined so we can bring more people on board.

Reimagining Human Rights is a project by Fine Acts, in partnership with hope-based comms. We are building the largest collection of free, evergreen, hopeful visual content around human rights, for activists and nonprofits around the world to use in their campaigns.

We commissioned a selection of amazing artists from around the world. We also opened a call for existing works to creatives everywhere. We received close to 1000 illustrations (THANK YOU) from the global creative community, and selected to feature over 100 (and counting). See all the powerful and uplifting illustrations below and enjoy new works every week until January 2021. Below a few examples of the many beautiful illustrations.

All featured works are published under a Creative Commons-Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license on TheGreats.co – Fine Acts’ new platform for free socially engaged visuals, and made available for free non-commercial use and adaptation to activists and orgs worldwide, given the appropriate credit.

To see how to use the artworks, please read this brief info.


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Safwat Saleem for Fine Acts    DOWNLOAD
Safwat Saleem for Fine Acts
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Safwat Saleem for Fine Acts    DOWNLOAD
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Safwat Saleem for Fine Acts    DOWNLOAD
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https://fineacts.co/reimagining-human-rights

Christiane Amanpour, Jeff Kaufman and Jason Rezaian talk about the film Nasrin

March 2, 2021

Washington Post Live on 2 March 2021 published a fascinating insight into the making of the film Nasrin [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/16/new-film-nasrin-about-the-iranian-human-rights-defender/]. Nasrin Sotoudeh is one of the most recognised human rights laureates in the Digest with 7 major awards: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/848465FE-22DF-4CAF-928F-7931B2D7A499

The transcript is verbatim and long, so you would have to follow the link at the bottom of the post to get the full story. Here just some excerpts:

MR. IGNATIUS: So, we have with us Christiane Amanpour, the international anchor for CNN; Jeff Kaufman, who is the producer and writer of this film; and my colleague, Jason Rezaian, who is our Tehran bureau chief.

MR. IGNATIUS: If I could ask Jeff to begin by telling us a little bit about Nasrin, her career as a human rights activist, how you came to make this documentary about her.AD

When we first reached out to Nasrin about doing a documentary about her life and work, there was a trust-building process through friends, and one of the things that she shared with us was a strong interest in having her story really be a story about so many others. We had known Nasrin’s work for years, and one of the things I loved about Nasrin is she is a Muslim woman who often reached out on behalf of other faiths and other backgrounds to support people in need. And I thought that that was such a powerful message for our own country as well. As a matter of fact, I think everything about Nasrin is a powerful message for democracy and mutual respect in this country and around the world.

So, when Nasrin said yes, we could do a film with her, she worked out sort of a complicated process. I couldn’t go to Iran because of past work I had done, and it wouldn’t have made sense to have a big American crew show up in Tehran anyway. So, we worked with these really remarkable, talented, and courageous individuals who followed Nasrin around from both working with at-risk clients, to protests, to art galleries, theaters, bookstores. It was a thrill for us to sort of be there with them, and we are so happy to be able to bring her story to you.

MR. IGNATIUS: Jeff, if I could ask, one of the most powerful things about this film is the footage from inside Iran. Did the people who were shooting this footage for you run personal risks? And I worry that some of them may have, themselves, been subject to arrest or difficulties with the authorities.

MR. KAUFMAN: No one has been subject to arrest or difficulties with authorities because of the film itself, but because they are also activists and believed that their work can push society forward, they have put themselves, on occasion, at risk for that.

We–Marcia and I, so often throughout the production of this film, would say to Nasrin and her husband, Reza, you know, we will stop at any moment if you feel this puts you or anyone else at risk. That was always our largest concern. And we did the whole film in secret, didn’t even fundraise in public, because we wanted to keep as much privacy for them as possible during the process. And even when we were editing, we said to Nasrin and Reza, “Hey, we will stop now if you think this is a concern.” But they felt–you know, Nasrin has this wonderful quote. She says, “Our children must not inherit silence.” And she will say over and over again, as do other human rights advocates, that repressive governments, they use pressure and force and intimidation to make people quiet, and Nasrin refuses to have her voice muffled. So, we are proud that the film can help amplify that voice.

I just want to add that I got a message from Nasrin’s husband this morning. I had asked if there was a message from Nasrin. And he said two things. He said that the cell she is in now, just so you know, is an 8-foot by 13-foot cell that has 12 beds in it, bunkbeds. And it is a low ceiling, there’s no windows, and very little access to clean water. So that is the conditions that she is living in right now.

MR. IGNATIUS: Let me ask Christiane. Christiane, I think you have interviewed Nasrin in the past and you have interviewed many other courageous men and women who have taken these risks to stand up for human rights. What it is that motivates a special person like Nasrin, in your experience?

MS. AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I’m shaking my head because I am just so horrified at what her husband, Reza, has described as her latest terrible conditions inside a political prison, where she is not a political person. And I think this is what also really, for me, has been emblematic of all the human rights defenders who I have interviewed around the world. I haven’t had the pleasure of interviewing Nasrin, but I have had the pleasure of interviewing Shirin Ebadi, who as you remember also was a human rights lawyer in Iran. She also cannot go back to Iran. She was the first Iranian to win the Nobel Prize, and I covered the stories that she, and the cases that got her that Nobel Prize. And I know the risk that comes with it, and I know that they are not strictly speaking party political.AD

And I think this is one thing that came across in Jeff and Marcia’s film, and we talked about it when we did the interview. She is not being political. She is not talking about tearing down the regime or wanting any kind of regime change. She is just talking about basic, fundamental rights for the people of Iran, mostly in her case women and children, but some young men as well, under their own constitution. It is not like she is going out saying and taking cases to court that she is trying to try under Western law or whatever. It is under their own constitution. And this is what makes everybody, and certainly me, so angry that this is what has happened to her, this incredible woman.

I think what makes them take those risks, David, is that they truly believe in human rights. They truly believe in the dignity of each and every individual, and–this is important–they truly believe and want to hold their own governments accountable to the promises that those governments made. As I said, Nasrin defends cases based on the Islamic law in Iran, of the Islamic Republic, based on the promises that that regime made to the people 40 years ago, when the revolution started. And you can see that they have completely reneged on those promises, and that is why people like her are so utterly important.

MR. IGNATIUS: Jason, you were imprisoned in the same prison where Nasrin is being held today. As Christiane said, the reports from her husband, Reza, her conditions are horrifying. You have been there. Maybe you could just describe for our audience a little bit of what that prison is like, what it feels like to be there, the feelings that go through the many, many dozens, hundreds of people who are being held there unjustly.

MR. REZAIAN: Well, thank you for the question, David, and for the opportunity, and thank you to all three of you for taking part in this, and for David and Christiane for supporting me and my family while I was locked up in Evin Prison, which is a big reason why this film has been so important for me to get involved with.

I think that the reality of the political prisoner system in Iran, Christiane makes a very important point. I wasn’t a political prisoner, either. I was just a reporter doing my job. But our arrests and our detentions are very much politicized events.AD

The intention of our jailers is to really break us, to make us hopeless, to disassociate ourselves from society, and in Nasrin’s case, they have failed miserably. I did have the opportunity to interview Nasrin once, in 2013. It was a couple of months after Hassan Rouhani was elected president, and there was the hope that there would be more moderate attitude from the leadership in Tehran.

And ahead of his first trip to the UNGA, they released Nasrin, and my wife and I, who was working for Bloomberg at the time, visited Reza and Nasrin and their children in their home, on that very first day that she was released. And although she was relieved and happy to be back with her family, she made it clear that she was not at all satisfied that she had been released, because so many of her colleagues and friends and other innocent people were being held in prison.

And I think for someone like her, I imagine one of the most frustrating things about her experience would be that she understands the laws that she is trying to uphold much better than the people who are implementing them and using them against her, and I think that for that reason she is an incredible example and hero to so many.AD

And I just think that, you know, I want everybody to understand that Iranian woman are the backbone of that country. There is no doubt about it. They really, really are. Unlike women in many parts of the Islamic world, the Iranian women have been very strong, very mobilized, very much part of society, as you can see. Nasrin and Shirin and the others don’t just emerge out of nowhere. It is a long, long tradition. And I think it is great that Jeff is showing this, and I think it’s great that the world needs to understand it. And if I might just say also, you know, the first female to win a field mathematics medal was an Iranian-American.

So, there is a huge amount of success by Iranian women around the world, and that is why I think it is really important to show what Iranian woman are trying to do for their own girls and women and for their rights in their own country, and what an incredible hard, hard job it is, and how much personal risk they take.

And I also want to pay tribute to the journalists, as Jeff said. At the beginning of the film, he said, “I pay tribute to all the camera people and the crews, who I cannot name.” He explained why. But it is really important to understand that this story is being told despite the massive crackdown, and I think that is fantastic….

MR. IGNATIUS: So, Jeff, I want to ask you about one of the really moving parts of this film, and that is the footage of Nasrin’s husband, Reza, who has stood by her unflinchingly, supporting her, believing in her. He seems like a remarkable person. The fact that you were in touch with him today is especially moving to me. Tell our audience a little bit about Reza, Nasrin’s husband, and why he has been such a supporter of his wife’s cause and commitment.

MR. KAUFMAN: I will. I am so glad you asked. One of the reasons we wanted to do this film, besides profiling Nasrin, was because we wanted to fight back on the demonization of Iran and the demonization of Islam, that is being used too often for political purposes in this country, and no one has a better way to do that than Nasrin and Reza.

I think this film is an example that we can overcome obstacles from great distances, and even technological imitations, but sometimes it’s difficult.

I asked Reza, Nasrin’s husband, if Nasrin had any message to share for this conversation, and I got a note from him this morning. These are Nasrin’s words through Reza. Nasrin said, “What occupies my thoughts the most is those who are on Death Row here in Gharchak Prison. Right now, there are 17 women on Death Row facing imminent execution.” And she closed by saying, “I am hoping for an end to the death penalty across the world.”

So, you know, there’s Nasrin facing enormous pressure and difficulties, but as usual she is not thinking about herself. She is thinking about others and she is trying to push her country forward.

Jason, let me ask you, as someone who was imprisoned unjustly, whose cause was taken up by your newspaper and by many, many thousands of Americans, what difference you think that public pressure from the United States, from world public opinion, made in your ultimately being released?

MR. REZAIAN: So, I think it made a huge amount of difference in my case. And oftentimes when we are talking about foreign nationals being held hostage in Iran, usually they are dual nationals, and, you know, Iran tries to suppress this information of our second nationality as much as possible. For me, it became clear, as my case was being brought up more and more, my treatment by my captors got better and better. And I realized, at some point during the process of going on trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, I don’t think I need to tell anybody that’s in the conversation with me but maybe some folks at home listening should know that if you ever find yourself on trial in a court with “revolutionary” in its name, you don’t have a good chance of winning.

But I realized that my real case was in the case of international public opinion, and the more people who kind of pushed for my release, the more involved the U.S. government got, and so much of that started, first and foremost, with my family, very early on with my imprisonment. My mom went on Christiane’s show and talked about my situation. And our colleagues at The Washington Post, who didn’t let a day go by without raising my case.

So now, you know, when I’m contacted by the families of people who are being held in prison in Iran, unfortunately there are five Americans being held at this very moment, and I’m in touch with every one of those families, I tell each one of them, make as much noise as you possibly can, and when your loved one gets out, they will thank you for it. And time and again, when people have been released, that I have written about, they contact me and say, “Thank you for making sure that I wasn’t forgotten about.” And my attitude is, what kind of hypocrite would I be if, after getting all the support that I got, that I didn’t pay it forward by helping people who have had their voices silenced?

MR. IGNATIUS: I hope we made a little noise today on Nasrin’s behalf. We are unfortunately out of time, but I want to close by thanking our guests, Christiane Amanpour from CNN, Jeff Kaufman, in particular, who made this extraordinary film, and my colleague, Jason Rezaian. You can watch “NASRIN,” this powerful, upsetting film, in the USA and Canada now on demand. International audiences can stream the film starting in a week, on March 8….

https://www.washingtonpost.com/washington-post-live/2021/03/01/transcript-nasrin-conversation-with-christiane-amanpour-jeff-kaufman-jason-rezaian/

A new gateway to human rights information being launched: awards and their laureates

January 25, 2021

THF

As this blog has abundantly shown, Human Rights Awards have become an increasingly important tool in the protection of Human Rights Defenders. They give HRDs visibility and provide support and protection for those at risk. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/human-rights-awards/].

On February 2nd 2021 a new one-stop resource will allow to find and search human rights awards and their laureates.

The Digest of International Human Rights Awards and their Laureates, a unique centralised resource for the human rights community, gives visibility, strengthens legitimacy of human rights defenders’ work, and could influence authorities to better apply human rights. There are now 200 awards and over 2400 HRDs/laureates in the digests.

It will give researchers, students, activists, the media and the public a searchable overview on who has won which awards and their short profiles. The digest will allow people to filter (re)searches on laureates by, e.g. theme, prize, profession, country or region, gender, etc.         

On February 2nd, 2021 True Heroes Films will be launching the new platform to the public.  See the clip below:

Please forward this post to whom you think might be interested. Twitter: https://twitter.com/TrueHeroesFilms

https://mailchi.mp/7176a72bfc91/digest-of-international-human-rights-awards-and-their-laureates

2020 Human Rights Day: 6 Human rights defenders highlighted by NHRF

December 22, 2020

On December 10th the Norwegian Human Rights Fund celebrated Human Rights Day. Many have been heavily impacted by the #COVID19 pandemic, and others face even more risks for defending their #rights now than before. In this video, six human rights defenders (such as Ruki Fernando, Norma Ledezma and Asha Kowtal) from different countries (India, Sri lanka, Thailand, Mexico and Colombia) share their thoughts on the importance of the fight for human rights.

New film ‘Nasrin’ about the Iranian human rights defender

December 16, 2020


T

On 16 December 2020 Arab News carries an interview with Filmmaker Jeff Kaufman who tells of his admiration for Nasrin Sotoudeh and the activists who shot his documentary in secret inside Iran over a two-year period, ending in June 2018.

It is one thing to criticize the brutality of the Iranian regime from outside of the country; it is quite another to do so from within, under constant surveillance by the nation’s secret police or even from the inside of a prison cell. Yet that is exactly what Nasrin Sotoudeh has been doing for most of her life. As a lawyer she fought for the rights of dissidents who dare to condemn the oppressive actions of Iran’s religious rulers. See e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nasrin-sotoudeh/

Her poignant and inspirational story is told in a new feature-length documentary film that was secretly recorded inside Iran. “Nasrin,” which is narrated by Oscar-winning British actress Olivia Coleman, reveals how a woman who was one of her country’s leading lawyers, fighting to preserve freedom of speech and human rights, was torn from the arms of her husband and two children by Iran’s secret police and locked up.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is one of the most remarkable human-rights activists on the planet,” said Emmy-nominated filmmaker Jeff Kaufman, the film’s producer, director and writer.

Kaufman explained that his film aims to show international audiences the reality of life as an Iranian in modern-day Iran. “(The film) profiles Nasrin and her work but we also really wanted to bring alive the rich culture of Iran and show that there is a difference between the leadership of that country and the people of that country,” he said.

Rather than release Nasrin, they sent her to another prison where she contracted COVID herself and she (was sent) home on a temporary health leave, having both COVID-19 and a heart condition,” he added. “She was told that health leave would stay active for a while but last week she was abruptly sent back and is in prison now.

“Nasrin” will be available to stream online from 18 December. Visit www.NasrinFilm.com for more details and to watch the trailer.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1778146/middle-east