Skip to main content

Actress: In Iran, my counterpart faces prison

May 2, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
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
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT