New film ‘Nasrin’ tells story of hero who stood up to the Iranian regime

New film ‘Nasrin’ tells story of hero who stood up to the Iranian regime
Millions of people from more than 200 nations are calling for Nasrin Sotoudeh’s release. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 December 2020

New film ‘Nasrin’ tells story of hero who stood up to the Iranian regime

New film ‘Nasrin’ tells story of hero who stood up to the Iranian regime
  • Filmmaker Jeff Kaufman tells of his admiration for Nasrin Sotoudeh and the activists who shot his documentary in secret inside Iran

CHICAGO: 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.

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.

“She has been called the Nelson Mandela of our time, for good reason. She has for decades used her legal work to advocate for human rights in Iran, grassroots democracy in Iran (often representing) people of religious minorities in that country, children, fighting against the death penalty.”

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.

The documentary was secretly filmed in Iran by a team of men and women who risked arrest and harsh punishment to tell the story of Sotoudeh’s activism on behalf of prisoners and the families of people who “disappeared” after standing up to the Iranian regime.




Nasrin Sotoudeh is one of the most remarkable human-rights activists on the planet, Emmy-nominated filmmaker Jeff Kaufman says.

Kaufman said that he and his fellow producer on the film Marcia Ross, who is also his wife, “were constantly blown away by the courage of the people that we portray in this film, and also the courage of the people who were able to shoot it for us in Iran.”

He added: “Just picking up a camera and walking around with Nasrin Sotoudeh can get you in a lot of trouble.”

The film was shot over a two-year period, ending in June 2018, that included some shocking and frightening developments.

“One day, Marcia and I were talking to Nasrin and her husband on FaceTime as they were walking through a beautiful park in Tehran, talking about their lives and work and things like that — and about two days later, Nasrin was arrested,” Kaufman said.

“She was charged, in part, for defending women in this movement called the ‘Girls of Revolution Street’ where they take off their hijabs and wave them in public. But it was really retaliation for all of Nasrin’s human rights work. She was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.”

It is not the first time Sotoudeh has been locked up. She was arrested in 2010 and spent more than three years in jail before she was released. During her periods of detention, she has gone on hunger strike several times to protest against the way she and her family were being treated. In August this year she began another hunger strike, this time calling for the release of political activists from prisons “because the health conditions there are horrible — they are ravaged by COVID-19” Kaufman 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.”




The film was shot over a two-year period, ending in June 2018. (Supplied)

Millions of people from more than 200 nations have called for Sotoudeh’s release including US President-elect Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, journalists Christiane Amanpour, Gloria Steinem, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Kaufman compared Sotoudeh to heroes of the American civil-rights movement who fought for equal rights and justice for African Americans, such as Georgia congressman John Lewis, who died on July 17 and with whom Kaufman had worked. Lewis was one of six leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who organized the 1963 March on Washington. He and King were beaten by police during the 1965 protests in Selma, Alabama.

“(Lewis) saw that his own struggle for civil rights had a universal element, and he realized that connected him to the struggle for LGBTQ rights and for woman’s rights as well,” said Kaufman.

“Nasrin is very much like that. Personally, she reminds me so much of John Lewis: (she has) great warmth and a wonderful sense of humor, a smile that can light up a room.”

She also has great strength, he added, which can clearly be seen in the documentary.

“You see in the film, when she is arguing in Revolutionary Court in Tehran on behalf of Shirin Ebadi and there is a judge and a prosecutor in a room against her, she is tough,” said Kaufman. “She may be small, she may be frail right now, but she is one of the toughest people I have ever seen.”

Ebadi is Iranian political activist, lawyer, former judge and human rights activist who founded the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work fighting for the rights of women, children and refugees.

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


Turkey’s missing $128bn triggers publicity campaign and police action

Turkey’s missing $128bn triggers publicity campaign and police action
Updated 8 min ago

Turkey’s missing $128bn triggers publicity campaign and police action

Turkey’s missing $128bn triggers publicity campaign and police action
  • The Republican People’s Party (CHP) said $128 billion of foreign reserves were used during former Finance Minister Berak Albayrak’s tenure to stabilize the Turkish lira
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Feb. 24 that the massive sum of money was channeled into the country’s fight against coronavirus

ANKARA: 
Missing reserves of $128 billion from Turkey’s Central Bank has triggered a publicity campaign from the country’s opposition party demanding to know the money’s whereabouts and police action to stop the question from being asked.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) said $128 billion of foreign reserves were used during former Finance Minister Berak Albayrak’s tenure to stabilize the Turkish lira, which has been plummeting in value, and that it was a party’s constitutional right to probe where the country’s reserves were being spent.

It hung CHP banners up around the country asking about the missing money, while also trying to raise awareness about the financial hardships that Turkey was facing.

Police, using water cannons and armed vehicles, moved in to stop the party’s efforts. Banners hung up on balconies were removed by officers under the pretext of pandemic measures.

The CHP has vowed to keep displaying the banners on buildings and billboards for as long as the police keep removing them.

“We are asking about the money of the poor, those in need and orphans,” tweeted CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Hundreds of CHP lawmakers and party members changed their social media profile pictures to “128” in reference to the publicity campaign.

Naci Agbal, the Central Bank’s former governor, was reportedly fired after he tried to launch an investigation into the missing reserves.

The bank has changed governors four times in the last 20 months, each of them sacked through presidential decree without any reason given for their dismissal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Feb. 24 that the massive sum of money was channeled into the country’s fight against coronavirus.

The bank’s reserves are currently believed to stand at around $43.2 billion. 

Goldman Sachs said in November that the bank had misspent over $100 billion of its reserves to stop the lira’s depreciation during the first 10 months of 2020.

“NASA’s budget for 2020 is $22.6 billion,” tweeted prominent journalist Serif Turgut. “We could have even gone to Mars with $128 billion.” 


CHP lawmaker 
Kamil Oktay Sindir said the missing reserves showed the lack of financial transparency in the country, where several public-private partnership projects had been exempted from the audit of Turkey’s Court of Accounts.

He explained that one of the key missions of lawmakers, who were representatives of the people’s will, was to monitor Turkey’s budget and financial resources.

“We derive this right from the constitution,” he told Arab News. “Turkish people, who are already paying huge taxes, deserve accountability from the government about each penny it spends. Such moves of the Central Bank seriously undermine the Turkish economy’s credibility and they discourage foreign investors from investing in the country, as their trust in the functioning of the economy is getting eroded. The economic functioning of a country shouldn’t be so dependent on a one man-rule.”


Western powers condemn attacks in Kurdish Iraq

France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday, including one on Erbil Airport, pictured. (Reuters/File Photo)
France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday, including one on Erbil Airport, pictured. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 18 min 36 sec ago

Western powers condemn attacks in Kurdish Iraq

France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday, including one on Erbil Airport, pictured. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • An attack on Wednesday on an airport in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, was carried out by drone
  • Around 20 bomb or rocket attacks have targeted bases housing US soldiers or diplomats in Iraq since President Joe Biden took office

BERLIN: France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday.

“Together, our governments will support the government of Iraq’s investigation into the attacks to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable,” they said.

The Western powers said they were “united” in the view “that attacks on US and Coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and reiterate our steadfast commitment to the fight against Daesh.”

An attack on Wednesday on an airport in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, was carried out by drone, according to the Kurdish interior ministry, in an unprecedented escalation of the arms used to target US soldiers based there.

No one was hurt in the blast but a building was damaged.

READ MORE

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry condemned a drone attack targeting US forces stationed at Erbil airport in northern Iraq late on Wednesday. Click here for more.

A Turkish soldier was killed by rocket fire at around the same time at a military base 50 kilometers east in Bashiqa, Ankara said, but there was no immediate confirmation of any link between the two attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the airport drone attack.

But a shadowy pro-Iranian group calling itself Awliyaa Al-Dam (Guardians of Blood), which claimed responsibility for a similar attack at the airport in February, hailed the blast in pro-Tehran channels on the messaging app Telegram.

Around 20 bomb or rocket attacks have targeted bases housing US soldiers or diplomats in Iraq since President Joe Biden took office at the end of January.

Dozens more took place over the preceding 18 months, with Washington consistently blaming pro-Iran factions.

Washington and Tehran are both allies of Baghdad, but remain sharply at odds over Iran's nuclear programme.

Pro-Iran groups have been ratcheting up their rhetoric, vowing to ramp up attacks to force out the “occupying” US forces, over a year after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel the American troops.

Washington last week committed to withdrawing all remaining combat forces from Iraq, although the two countries did not set a timeline for what would be the second withdrawal since the 2003 invasion.


Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits

Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits
Updated 16 April 2021

Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits

Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits
  • Lenderking and Griffiths are working to encourage the delivery of fuel into Yemen and re-initiate political talks
  • In the UAE, Lenderking met with officials to discuss the importance of fully implementing the Riyadh Agreement

LONDON: US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking discussed the importance of reaching a lasting solution to the conflict in the country during a recent visit to Berlin.
Lenderking also discussed taking action to mitigate the humanitarian and economic crisis in the war torn country with representatives from the UN Security Council permanent member states, as well as Germany, Kuwait, Sweden, and the EU.
Ending the Houthi assault on Marib, facilitating a UN inspection and repair of the Safer oil tanker, and supporting the legitimate government’s efforts to stabilize the Yemeni economy and ease the humanitarian crisis were steps highlighted to end the conflict during the discussions in Berlin.
In the UAE, Lenderking met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the importance of full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.
The Yemen envoy arrived in Germany on Monday, traveled to the UAE on Wednesday and returned to the US on Friday.
Lenderking and the UN’s Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths are working side-by-side to encourage the swift delivery of fuel into Yemen and re-initiate political talks with the support of the Omani government, a US State Department statement said.
It called on all parties to commit seriously and negotiate in good faith.


Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found
Updated 16 April 2021

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found
  • A survivor said that the boat had 41 migrants on board, who had set off from Sfax in hope of reaching the Italian coast
  • The port city has become a common exit point for Europe-bound migrants escaping conflict or poor living conditions

TUNIS, Tunisia: Tunisian authorities said they recovered the bodies of 21 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, including nine women and a baby, whose boat sank Friday off the central port city of Sfax. The cause of the sinking was unclear.
Commander Housemeddine Jebabli, of the National Guard, told The Associated Press there were only three survivors, who were rescued by the coast guard with the help of civil protection divers.
Jebabli said that authorities are continuing to search the area of the sinking, as there are indications that 17 people could be missing.
Jebabli said a survivor told him that the boat had 41 migrants on board, who had set off the day before from Sfax in hope of reaching the Italian coast.
The port city has become a common exit point for Europe-bound migrants escaping conflict or poor living conditions.
Last month, on March 9, two boats ran aground in the same area killing 39 people, while 165 migrants were rescued. Most were sub-Saharan nationals.


With food and fuel, Hezbollah braces for the worst in Lebanon collapse

With food and fuel, Hezbollah braces for the worst in Lebanon collapse
Updated 16 April 2021

With food and fuel, Hezbollah braces for the worst in Lebanon collapse

With food and fuel, Hezbollah braces for the worst in Lebanon collapse
  • Hezbollah readies for 'stage of darkness and hunger', a step reflecting worries over looming end to subsidies
  • Plan chimes with worries in Lebanon that people will have to rely on political factions for food and security

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah has made preparations for an all-out collapse of the fracturing state, issuing ration cards for food, importing medicine and readying storage for fuel from its patron Iran, three sources familiar with the plans told Reuters.
The moves, responding to a grave economic crisis, would mark an expansion of services provided by the armed movement to its large Shiite support base, with a network that already boasts charities, a construction firm and a pension system.
The steps highlight rising fears of an implosion of the Lebanese state, in which authorities can no longer import food or fuel to keep the lights on.
They underline Hezbollah’s growing role in tackling the emergency with services that the government would otherwise provide.
The plan chimes with worries in Lebanon that people will have to rely on political factions for food and security, such as in militia days during the 1975-1990 civil war.
In response to a question about Hezbollah’s plans, Leila Hatoum, an adviser to the caretaker prime minister, said the country was “in no condition to refuse aid” regardless of politics.
The sources from the pro-Hezbollah camp, who declined to be named, said the plan for a potential worst-case scenario has gathered pace as an end to subsidies looms in the coming months, raising the specter of hunger and unrest.
Lebanon’s currency has crashed as the country runs out of dollars, with no state rescue in sight. Food prices have shot up 400%.
Fights in supermarkets are now commonplace, as are people rummaging through trash. A brawl over food packages this week killed one person and injured two others.
Hezbollah’s plan would help shield its communities — not only members but also mainly Shiite residents of districts it dominates — from the worst of the crisis, the sources said.
Hezbollah, which with its allies has a majority in parliament and government, did not respond to a request for comment.
“The preparations have begun for the next stage...It is indeed an economic battle plan,” said one of the sources, a senior official.

OUTSIZED NETWORK
Already, the new ration card, seen by Reuters, helps hundreds of people buy basic goods in the local currency — largely Iranian, Lebanese and Syrian cheaper items at a discount up to 40%, subsidised by the party, the sources said.
The card — named after a Shiite Imam — can be used at co-ops, some of them newly opened, in the southern Beirut suburbs and parts of southern Lebanon where Hezbollah holds sway.
An Iran-funded paramilitary force which critics once called “a state within a state,” Hezbollah has grown more entangled in Lebanese state affairs in recent years.
Washington, which deems Hezbollah a terrorist group, has ramped up sanctions to choke off its sources of funding, including what it estimates as hundreds of millions of dollars from Tehran yearly.
Iranian funding keeps Hezbollah better off than many in the country’s mosaic of parties, including those opposed to its arsenal. Some factions have issued aid baskets to their patronage communities, but the Iran-backed network remains outsized in comparison.
“They’re all doing it...But Hezbollah’s scope is much bigger and more powerful, with more resources to deal with the crisis,” said Joseph Daher, a researcher who wrote a book on Hezbollah’s political economy. “This is more about limiting the catastrophe for its popular base. It means the dependency on Hezbollah particularly will increase.”
And while Hezbollah gives ration cards, the state, hollowed out by decades of graft and debt, has talked up the idea of such a card for poor Lebanese for nearly a year without acting.
Ministers have said the need for parliamentary approval has stalled the cabinet’s plan for cards.

DARKNESS AND HUNGER
Photos on social media of shelves stacked with canned goods, reportedly from one of Hezbollah’s co-ops, spread across Lebanon last week.
Fatima Hamoud, in her 50s, said the ration card allows her once a month to buy grains, oil and cleaning products for a household of eight. “They know we’re in bad shape,” she said. “Without them, what would we have done in these tough times?“
A second Shiite source said Hezbollah had filled up warehouses and launched the cards to extend services outside the party and plug gaps in the Lebanese market, where cheap alternatives are more common than pre-crisis.
He said the card offers a quota, based on the family size, for needs like sugar and flour.
The goods are backed by Hezbollah, imported by allied companies or brought in without customs fees through the border with Syria, where Hezbollah forces have a footing since joining the war to back Damascus alongside Iran.
The source added that Hezbollah had similar plans for medicine imports. Some pharmacists in the southern suburbs of Beirut said they had received training on new Iranian and Syrian brands that popped up on the shelves in recent months.
Two of the sources said the plan included stockpiling fuel from Iran, as Lebanon’s energy ministry warns of a possible total blackout. The senior official said Hezbollah was clearing storage space for fuel in next-door Syria.
“When we get to a stage of darkness and hunger, you will find Hezbollah going to its back-up option...and that is a grave decision. Then Hezbollah will fill in for the state,” said the senior official. “If it comes to it, the party would’ve taken its precautions to prevent a void.”