Skip to main content

Actress: In Iran, my counterpart faces prison

updated 8:57 AM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
Actress and activist Pegah Ahangarani has been sentenced to 18 months in prison in Iran for her political activities.
Actress and activist Pegah Ahangarani has been sentenced to 18 months in prison in Iran for her political activities.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iranian Pegah Ahangarani is actress and activist, as is Iranian-born Nazanin Boniadi
  • But Boniadi has never been harassed for activism, while Ahangarani is sentenced to jail
  • Boniadi: 845 people are political prisoners in Iran, from all walks of life and careers
  • Boniadi: Human rights in Iran should be just as important as nuclear issues

Editor's note: Nazanin Boniadi is a human rights activist and actress. Her most recent role is CIA analyst Fara Sherazi on Showtime's "Homeland." She is a supporter of Unlock Iran and an official spokesperson for Amnesty International. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN) -- At first blush, the biography of Iranian actress Pegah Ahangarani could read very much like my own. Ahangarani is a working actress who supports social causes in her time away from set.

The difference?

In October, Ahangarani was sentenced to 18 months in prison for her peaceful activism.

Nazanin Boniadi
Nazanin Boniadi

In this regard, she is just the latest in a string of filmmakers and actors of Iranian cinema -- including acclaimed filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof and actor Ramin Parchami -- to be arrested or sentenced to lengthy prison terms in recent years.

Panahi and Rasoulof each were sentenced to prison -- the former for six years and the latter for five -- and banned from filmmaking for 20 years, accused of making "anti-regime propaganda." Parchami, a prominent actor, was sentenced to prison after he was arrested in anti-government protests. Many more have been arrested and jailed.

In my role as a spokesperson for Amnesty International USA and as a supporter of various charitable causes including Unlock Iran, a campaign to release prisoners of conscience in Iran, I have never been faced with the threat of intimidation or arrest.

Ahangarani's only 'crime' is that she dared be an agent of change and speak out in support of women and young people.
Nazanin Boiadi

Indeed, I cannot even fathom that speaking out for the most vulnerable in society and those locked up for peaceful expression and activities would, in turn, be grounds for my own detention and arrest by government authorities.

A celebrated and hugely popular actress in her native Iran, Ahangarani first landed on the radar of the Iranian authorities for her open support of opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi, which led to her arrest in July 2009 in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election in Iran. Another arrest in July 2011 followed, as well as a ban on her leaving the country.

Now she has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for "acting against national security and links to foreign media." The idea that an actress -- mostly lauded for her performances in more than a dozen films -- somehow represents a threat to Iran's national security is laughable at best. But in Ahangarani's case, far from anything humorous, the allegations have actually resulted in the sober prospect of real prison time.

Ironically, Ahangarani's sentence was handed down just a month after the reopening of the House of Cinema in Tehran, which had been unceremoniously ordered to shut its doors during the tenure of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Although the reopening was welcomed by many as a delivery of one of the promises that President Hassan Rouhani made on the campaign trail to increase cultural freedoms for Iranians, the reality is that artists such as Ahangarani, rapper Amir Tataloo and poets Mehdi Mousavi and Fatemeh Ekhtesari -- who were arrested in December and later released -- continue to come under fire for their peaceful exercise of creative expression.

And it's not only artists who languish in Iran's prisons. According to Unlock Iran's reporting, at least 845 people are prisoners of conscience in Iran, jailed for the peaceful exercise of their lifestyle, beliefs or profession. The list of hundreds includes lawyers, students, bloggers, journalists, labor union activists and political opponents.

The crisis is so acute that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently admonished the Iranian government for continuing to jail a large number of political prisoners. And just last month, the mandate of a U.N. expert assessing Iran's human rights record was renewed for yet another year because of the chronic nature of human rights abuses in the country.

Aside from all the reports of abuses, it is an odd thing when your counterpart in another society has experiences that are directly opposite to your own.

My human rights activism has been widely met with encouragement and support. Ahangarani should earn plaudits, not only for her cinematic achievements, but also for her humanitarian deeds and her commitment to increased rights and freedoms for all. She should not be intimidated and silenced with the threat of a lengthy prison sentence looming over her head.

Ahangarani's only "crime" is that she dared be an agent of change and speak out in support of women and young people.

The Iranian leadership is keen to prove that it is ready to engage with the international community, both on resolution of the nuclear issue in ongoing negotiations and renewal of economic ties. In addition to these concerns, human rights should be made an equal priority.

A good first step would be the unconditional pardon of the 843 prisoners of rights and the hundreds of others, such as Ahangarani, who are waiting to serve out their sentences.

Ahangarani, and all those risking their own freedom to ensure the rights of others, are national treasures, not national traitors.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT