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Oscar-Winner Haggis Leads Protest to Free Filmmaker

Nazanin Boniadi, Paul Haggis and Trudie Styler
Iranian-born actress Nazanin Boniadi, Academy award-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis, and human rights activist Trudie Styler in a rally outside the Iranian mission to the United Nations this morning. Haggis and others delivered petitions demanding the release of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, sentenced to 6 years in prison for making "anti-government films." Photographer: Jeremy Gerard/Bloomberg

(Corrects subject of book in penultimate paragraph in story datelined June 8.)

June 8 (Bloomberg) -- Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis and human-rights activist Trudie Styler delivered petitions this morning to the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, demanding freedom for acclaimed filmmaker Jafar Panahi and his artistic collaborator, Mohammad Rasoulof.

They are both under house arrest while appealing six-year prison sentences for making “propaganda against the state.” They’re also banned from making films in Iran for 20 years.

The petitions contained about 21,000 signatures, including those of Martin Scorsese, Mia Farrow, Susan Sarandon, Patrick Stewart and Harvey Weinstein.

The rally, organized by the human-rights organization Amnesty International, drew a small crowd of mainly reporters and photographers to the Iranian Mission in Manhattan. The protest grew contentious at one point as security personnel from the building tried to clear the lobby and summoned police.

“The treatment of Jafar Pahani and Mohammad Rasoulof is an outrageous human-rights injustice,” Haggis said. “We stand here today to demand that the government of Iran overturn their sentences.”

Iranian-born actress Nazanin Boniadi said she was heartbroken to “see this aggressive and brutal rights clampdown in my home country. The charges against Pahani and Rasoulof are ludicrous. The sentences are inhumane.”

Delivering Petitions

Haggis, Styler (wife of singer Sting), Boniadi and Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International’s U.S. chapter, entered the building to deliver the petitions. Minutes later, a protocol officer from the mission came down and told Haggis that he was authorized only to accept the cover letter.

As Haggis insisted on delivering two large boxes of petitions, police started clearing the lobby of protesters. Eventually, the mission official was instructed to accept the boxes containing the petitions, and Haggis emerged from the building to cheers.

In 2010, prior to his trial, Panahi spent three months in Tehran’s Evin prison. His films include “Badkonake Sefid” (“White Balloon”) and “Dayareh” (“Circle”).

Evin is also the site of “Then They Came for Me,” about the imprisonment and torture of Iranian journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari. The book, written by Bahari and Aimee Molloy, has just been published by Random House.

The area outside the Iranian Mission was temporarily renamed “Azadi” (“Freedom”) Square by the protesters for the event.

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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