Journalist featured in Jon Stewart’s ‘Rosewater’ film speaks about imprisonment in Iran

Michelle Kim, Reporter

Maziar Bahari, a journalist who was detained in Iran for 118 days in 2009, spoke at Northwestern on Friday night after hundreds of students watched an advance screening of a film based on his experience.

The screening of “Rosewater,” held in a packed Ryan Family Auditorium, was hosted by the Medill Undergraduate Student Advisory Committee and A&O Productions. Afterward, Bahari told the audience about his time in prison during a question-and-answer session moderated by Medill Prof. Jack Doppelt.

The movie, written and directed by “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, was based on Bahari’s life and his memoir “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival.” The movie is expected to be released in theaters Nov. 14.

Bahari was working as a Newsweek correspondent covering protests after the 2009 Iranian presidential election when he was arrested and held in Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran. Iranian intelligence officers accused Bahari of being a spy, using a mock interview he did for “The Daily Show” to support their claims. In jail, Bahari was brutally interrogated, and the international community loudly demanded his release.

Now a human rights activist, Bahari spoke about authoritarian regimes’ methods of controlling the people they imprison.

“One of the techniques of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships is to make (people they imprison) insecure about their tomorrow, about their future and about their livelihood,” he said. “My interrogation didn’t have anything to do with what I did. It had to do with what they wanted me to say.”

Bahari said memories of his family helped him in prison. His father and sister had been imprisoned before for being members of the Communist Party. They inspired a sense of social consciousness in him, Bahari said.

He also spoke about the “psychological battle” he faced in prison and said he believed his cultural background allowed him to sustain hardships.

“In that battle, I thought that I should be the winner because I had lived the richer life,” he said. “I had been more inclusive, more open to new ideas, doubted more things, watched more films, read more poetry and books and listened to different music.”

Bahari also expressed optimism about Iran’s future, calling it a “young country” where “people are educated.”

A&O co-chair of films Eliza Abramson told The Daily that organizers put on the film event because they believed it represented a variety of student interests.

“We reached out to film and journalism students, but also multicultural groups, social justice groups and student government,” the Communication junior said. “We really tried to bring lots of different people into this event.”

Medill sophomore Nida Bajwa said hearing Bahari speak strengthened her desire to pursue international journalism.

“It really reaffirmed my desire to talk to people on the ground who are part of the citizen’s movement, a rebellion coming from the masses,” Bajwa said.

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