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'Then They Came For' Journalist Maziar Bahari

Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari was arrested in Tehran in 2009 while covering Iran's election protests. He explains how he endured 118 days in Iran's notorious Evin Prison, where he was repeatedly interrogated and tortured — and how he now views his homeland.

45:01

Other segments from the episode on June 3, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 3, 2011: Interview with Maziar Bahari; Review of the film "Beginners."

Transcript

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'Then They Came For' Journalist Maziar Bahari

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for
Terry Gross.

Our guest Maziar Bahari has just written an account of his 118 days in
captivity at the hands of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. It's called, "Then They
Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival."

Bahari was arrested in 2009 while covering the protests in Tehran, which
followed the disputed presidential election. He was sent to Evin Prison,
notorious for its torture of political prisoners.

His interrogator, a member of the Revolutionary Guard, accused him of many
things, some of them pretty ludicrous. For instance, the interrogator used a TV
interview Bahari did with a correspondent for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show"
as an example of Bahari's association with a spy. He was released after four
months in captivity because of international pressure. Nine days later, his
wife gave birth to their only child.

Bahari grew up in Tehran and moved to Canada in 1988 to study film. A decade
later, he returned to Iran where he made documentaries and covered that country
for Newsweek. He now lives in London. This month will mark the second
anniversary of the start of protests in Iran as well as two years since Maziar
Bahari was arrested.

Terry Gross spoke to him last June, as the first anniversary of those events
was approaching, and asked him how he was feeling.

Mr. MAZIAR BAHARI (Author, "Then They Came for Me"): I - yeah, I mean, I,
inevitably, have to think about the anniversary of my arrest in Iran as well,
because, as much as I was proud to be Iranian on the 15th of June, 2009, I got
worried about the future of the country on the 19th of June, 2009, when the
supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who people thought he was a
pragmatic leader who was thinking about his own survival, would accept the
voice of the people who came to the streets and wanted a recount of the votes.

And - but Khamenei did not do that. Khamenei told the people to go back home or
they have to pay the price of the violence and the consequences of their
action. And on the 19th of June, when Khamenei delivered that ceremony and the
Friday prayers, Iran entered the new phase. And we can talk about Islamic
Republic of Iran as an Islamic government, as a theocracy. We have to talk
about it as a quasi-military dictatorship.

TERRY GROSS, host:

While you were in prison, your interrogator told you that they could find you
anywhere. He said, we can put people in a bag no matter where in the world they
are. No one can escape from us. And his last words to you just before you were
released were: remember the bag.

Mr. BAHARI: Yes. Yeah.

GROSS: So does that haunt you, moments like this when you're speaking about the
Iranian government and the opposition movement and speaking about your
imprisonment?

Mr. BAHARI: Well, only in the moments like this when the interviewer reminds me
of that, it haunts me. But I try not to think about it on a day-to-day basis.
And I try not to let them win and take over my life even though I'm living
thousands of miles away from Iran.

That is the strategy of the Iranian government. The Iranian government wants to
tell its citizens that we are in control of every aspect of your life no matter
where you are. And also, it's part of the bullying characteristic of the
Islamic government. And it's not only the Iranian people that the Islamic
government bullies. It bullies the international community as well through
programs such as the nuclear program.

But to me, personally, not talking about my experience, allowing them to haunt
me on a day-to-day basis, it would mean a defeat for me, a personal defeat. And
I cannot allow them to defeat me.

GROSS: In March of 2010, which was months after you were released - you were
released in October 2009. So in March you were sentenced to 13 years and six
months in prison plus 74 lashes.

Mr. BAHARI: Yes.

GROSS: What was the point of sentencing you after you were already released?

Mr. BAHARI: They released me on bail. Before I was released, they asked me to
sign a paper saying that when I leave Iran, I'm going to cooperate with the
government and I'm going to spy for the government. And the first thing I did
when I arrived in London was to send them an email, through the email address
they provided for me, that I have never spied for anyone, and I'm not going to
start spying for you. And that really bothered them.

And then - not immediately, but within a month after my release, I started
talking about my experience and the torture, psychological and physical torture
I had been through. And also, I started a campaign with the help of Committee
to Protect Journalists and many other international organizations in support of
other journalists who are imprisoned in Iran, because, as you know, more than
100 journalists have been detained since the election, re-election of Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad in June 2009, and many hundreds are in exile.

So I started a campaign in support of those journalists, and they did not like
that at all. So they kept on threatening me through my family members, and
sometimes they even called me in London, and I just had it. I think in March, I
just made those threats public, and I told all the different networks that the
Iranian government is threatening me. And it was - there was an international
condemnation of those threats, and within a few days, they passed this
sentence.

The sentence was supposed to scare me because the Iranian government was
planning to start this international court for Iranians in the diaspora. And
also, the sentence was supposed to scare many other journalists and filmmakers
who were working in Iran that if you do something on the anniversary of the
election, this kind of sentence can happen to you.

GROSS: Is your mother still in Iran? And do you worry about her, if she is?

Mr. BAHARI: My mother is still in Iran, and my extended family is in Iran as
well. I worry about them on a day-to-day basis. But traditionally, the Iranian
government has never touched the families and relatives of the people they
regard as the opposition - with a few exceptions, of course.

But the Iranian government is not known for its predictability, so I wonder
when and if they are going to bother my family. But again, that's part of their
control mechanism that they want to threaten you through threatening your
family and - or make you feel always fearful of what they're going to do to
your family.

So, again, I don't want them to control me through my family. And I don't think
that my family will be very happy with me if I stop talking about the
atrocities that the Iranian government is committing now.

GROSS: We were talking about how you were sentenced in March even though you
were released months before that, in October of 2009. And you were sentenced
for some of the things during that sentencing in March in which you were
accused of other things when you were arrested, and some of them are kind of
predictable, you know, like being a spy and inciting riots and things like
that. Some of the charges were kind of bizarre, like, one of them was for a
photo that was on your Facebook page? Would you describe that too?

Mr. BAHARI: Yeah, it was not even my photo. It was a photo that was tagged on
my page. And most people who know Facebook, they know that you have no control
over what people tag on your wall. And it was a photo of Ahmadinejad kissing a
boy, and it was a photo that I think it was taken two or three years before
that.

And one day, my interrogator said that, who put this photo on your Facebook?
And I said, I don't know. And he said, how come you don't know? I mean, this is
your Facebook page, so you must know. I mean, I have to say that they were
beating me while they were asking those questions. So I was getting beaten, and
I was being asked these idiotic questions. And I said, sir, it doesn't have to
do anything with me. It's like if someone throws something into your house, are
you responsible for that? You know, it's exactly the same thing.

But the man didn't know anything about Facebook. So there was no way I could
explain to him. And then he said that, through this photo you are saying that
Mr. Ahmadinejad is a homosexual, so you're insulting him. And as a result I
received a six-month sentence. And I mean, I'm laughing now in the comfort of a
London studio...

GROSS: That's because I'm not beating you. I mean, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAHARI: Exactly, yeah. And - but many of my colleagues are suffering
because of this stupid, idiotic thinking of the Iranian government and their
captors. And that is the tragedy of Iran, that a country with many educated
people, many intelligent people, is almost hijacked by a group of thugs who are
running the country right now.

GROSS: You were also charged with being in contact with the Jews and Israelis.
Is it illegal to be in contact with Jews?

Mr. BAHARI: Well, you know, that Jewish episode of my imprisonment, it was just
so bizarre. I'm a member of two fan books in - on Facebook, and one of them is
Anton Chekhov. The other one is Pauly Shore. But I'm not going to talk about
that one. One of them is Anton Chekhov.

And one day my interrogator asked me, who is Anton Chekhov? I said, well, he is
a Russian playwright from the late 19th century, early 20th century. What does
he write about? I said, you know, about existential subjects, about people's
day-to-day problems. It's a very - he's a very good writer, a beautiful - and
he said, was he a Jew? I said, well, I'm not sure whether Chekhov was a Jew or
not, but, you know, there were many Jewish intellectuals at that time. Maybe he
was. Maybe he was not. I'm not really sure whether Chekhov was. And he said,
no, no, no. I'm sure that Chekhov was a Zionist. We have to investigate. So,
you know, they went and investigate Anton Chekhov during my interrogation. And,
you know, they were accusing me of supporting the Zionists because I was a
member of an Anton Chekhov fan club on Facebook.

And then, when they found out that I had made a film about the Jewish
Holocaust, and I may be the only Iranian filmmaker or Muslim filmmaker who's
ever made a film about the Holocaust, they thought that, you know, that's it,
that they have found a Zionist spy. And, you know, I received a lot of beatings
and torture because of that.

But it was not part of my sentence. You know, most of the things that they
accused me of, it was not brought up in my sentence because they were all
false. There is no talk of espionage in my sentence, for example, because they
didn't have any proof, because I was not a spy. And, you know, so they had to
resort to this really idiotic evidence that they thought they had.

BIANCULLI: Maziar Bahari, speaking to Terry Gross one year ago.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's June 2010 interview with Newsweek
correspondent, Maziar Bahari. She spoke to him one year after he was imprisoned
in Iran for 118 days, accused of being a spy.

He's written a book about his ordeal, which will be published next week. It's
called "Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and
Survival."

GROSS: You were also accused when you were in prison of improper sexual
conduct. And it sounds like your interrogator, after accusing you of improper
sexual conduct, enjoyed nothing better than trying to get you to talk about
sex.

Mr. BAHARI: Yeah. You know, my interrogator - you know, after a few days I
realized that, you know, my interrogator was a human being. He was not a very
good human being. He was not the human being that I would be friends with. But
he was a human being. And that man, he spends most of his time in a dark room,
in a small room, beating people, insulting people and interrogating people.

And sometimes, he would receive calls from his wife, and he was just tired. He
was very gentle and very nice on the phone with his wife. But the wife was
apparently - was evidently always complaining about him not coming home. And he
was always making different excuses that, OK, I have to finish this guy, and
then I promise I'll come home, and we can (unintelligible)...

GROSS: That's so bizarre, and I'm trying - wait, wait. Hang on. I'm trying to
think of what that's like. He's beating you, then he's talking to his wife and
having, you know, a husband-wife kind of conversation. He's saying I can't make
it home because I have to finish beating this guy, and this guy is you.

Mr. BAHARI: You know, he was a master of a schizophrenic personality. You know,
his body was doing something and his voice was totally doing something else.
For example, one day he was squeezing my ear in his hand, and he was punching
me in the head, and then at the same time he had the phone in his hand, and you
know, and he was talking lovingly to his wife. He was really gentle and very
nice to his wife, and you know, while beating me.

And I think the fact that he could not be with his wife and the fact that he
was in that really claustrophobic atmosphere that made sex into such an
important subject for him. And he was going through all my email contacts, all
my Facebook friends, all my - even mobile cell phone contacts, and he was
asking about each individual, if I had sex with them or not.

For example, he was asking me about Shirin Ebadi, you know, the Nobel Peace
laureate, the human rights lawyer. And he said, did you have sex with Shirin
Ebadi? I said no, I did not have sex with Shirin Ebadi. She's, like, she's 70
years old. And - but he said, you have three phone numbers for her. I said,
yes, I have three numbers. I have 10 numbers for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Like,
what does that prove?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAHARI: And then, you know, of course he would not like me to talk back and
the beating would continue. So, yeah, I mean, I can easily say that I was maybe
beaten up and tortured for about one month just because of his sexual
accusations.

GROSS: Do you think that that kind of sexual obsession and beating of you is an
example of what happens when a culture is so sexually repressed?

Mr. BAHARI: It is. And, you know, it is about ignorance, and it's about
suppression, and it's about being isolated from the rest of the world and the
rest of the people as well.

You know, to him, I was eating the forbidden fruit on the Earth. I was supposed
to - I was - like him, I was supposed to wait until my death, go to paradise,
and then I could have sex with as many women and men as I wanted. I could drink
wine or whatever. And he thought that, you know, people should not exercise
that on the Earth. Otherwise they were infidels. So he hated me because I, you
know, I was eating the forbidden fruit on the Earth, and he was also jealous at
the same time.

And, you know, because people in Iran, they have satellite dishes, and even in
the most religious traditional families, they watch satellite television that's
beamed from the United States mainly. They have some ideas about the West. And
he had this fascination with the state of New Jersey. So to him, New Jersey was
that paradise. I'm not sure why he had that fascination with New Jersey. Maybe
he was a big fan of "Jersey Shore" or something. I never found out, really. But
he was...

GROSS: Well, explain how he used that in his questions to you.

Mr. BAHARI: Well, you know, in the beginning, he told me that you wanted to
create a New Jersey Islam in Iran. And I was wondering, what is New Jersey
Islam? He said, you wanted to create a New Jersey Islam in Iran, an Islam with
Michael Jackson music and people having sex with each other. I was like, oh my
God. That would be a really weird place to have sex(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAHARI: But then, after a while, after the beatings and after all the
torture finished, and he wanted to release me - because 20 days before my
release, he started being nice to me. And because of the international
pressure, they wanted to release me but they wanted to have certain conditions
before my release.

And during the last 20 days, we would just talk about different things, and I
could see that he had that fascination with New Jersey. And he would ask me, so
what are the main cities in New Jersey? And what about health care in New
Jersey? Are there any Jews? And...

GROSS: So odd. Are there any Jews in New Jersey?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAHARI: Yeah. He asked me once, are there any Jews in New Jersey? When I
said that, yes, there are many Jews in New Jersey...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAHARI: ...he was surprised because he thought that such a nice place,
there shouldn't be any Jews in such a nice place. But, yeah, but that was the -
I mean, it was just a bizarre - it was really a comedy of horrors. And I can
laugh about it again now in London, after - a month after my release. But
during that time, in a small dark room with a big man beating you up and
kicking you and insulting you, it was not very funny.

GROSS: No.

Mr. BAHARI: And it's not funny even now because these are the people who are
running the country. I mean, don't think that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is much
different from my interrogator. In fact, my interrogator was sometimes very
critical of Ahmadinejad and his radical policies. And he would say, why did
Ahmadinejad say this? Why did Ahmadinejad say this? So, in a sense, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad is even more ignorant than my interrogator, and that is really
scary because Iran is a very powerful country. Iran is on the brink of, I
think, a nuclear weapon. And being run by these people, it makes it very
dangerous.

BIANCULLI: Maziar Bahari speaking to Terry Gross last June. We'll have more of
their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David Bean Cooley. And
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.

We're listening to an interview Terry conducted one year ago with journalist
and documentary filmmaker Maziar Bahari, who was arrested Iran after covering
the 2009 protests against that country's disputed presidential election.

Bahari was accused of being a spy and was imprisoned and interrogated for 118
days before being released. His memoir is an account of his ordeal, the history
of modern Iran and the story of his own family. It's called "Then They Came for
Me." Bahari now lives in London with his wife and daughter.

GROSS: You've described your imprisonment, in a way, as a comedy of horrors
because the questions you were asked, the things you were charged with were so
absurd. But your torturer had no sense of humor at all. I mean, not anyways
applied to anything in your life in what he was accusing you of. And his
knowledge of America, his knowledge of Facebook, his knowledge of everything he
was accusing you of was so - well, nonexistent, really.

Mr. BAHARI: Limited. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So just to kind of prove that, part of the evidence that was used
against you was your interview with Jason Jones, a correspondent for "The Daily
Show," who happened to be in Iran just a few days before the election and a few
days before all of the protests. And he was there to do these kind of funny
reports about, you know, how he's going to show what villains the Iranians are
and how all Iranians hate Americans. And, of course, every Iranian he spoke to
was talking about no, no, no. We really like America. No, no. We don't hate
America.

And then he interviewed a few experts, you know, about Iranian-American
relations, and you were one of those experts. So I want to play the interview
he did with you, and then we'll talk about how your interrogator used this
interview when you were in prison.

Mr. BAHARI: Sure.

GROSS: And I should mention, Jason Jones - actually, you describe how Jason
Jones was dressed for this report.

Mr. BAHARI: Jason was dressed in a Palestinian kafia scarf and had sunglasses.
He basically looked like a bad spy in a B movie. And he pretended to be a
redneck American who didn't know anything about Iran and anything about the
Middle East or Islam, and had all these stereotypes. And I was supposed to give
him answers that, you know, that was so different from his prejudgments.

GROSS: OK. So here, you're both at a coffee shop. And when this starts, Jason
Jones is at a table looking for you and waiting for you.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

Mr. JASON JONES (Actor): We headed to a coffee shop off Azadi Square for a
clandestine meeting with Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. I was told he'd go
by the code name Pistachio and I would recognize him by - oh, I didn't see you
there.

I asked him the question on every Westerner's mind: Why was his country so
terrifying?

Mr. BAHARI: In one word: misunderstanding. The truths are(ph) is they don't
understand each other. They don't know the values of the other side. They don't
know how to talk to the other side. And actually, I've written about that for
Newsweek magazine several times.

Mr. JONES: I didn't understand a word of that. Mahmoud, can you translate this
for me please?

MAHMOUD (Translator): Yes. He's saying that he's written about this problem
that you have in Newsweek magazine, and you can read about it.

Mr. JONES: OK. What did he say?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAHARI: He said that I said I've written about it for Newsweek magazine
several times.

Mr. JONES: I'm going to need someone who speaks English.

The one thing I could understand was that this entire country is evil.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAHARI: The first thing to know about Iran is that it's not evil. Iranians
and Americans, they have much more in common than they have different.

Mr. JONES: But what do I have in common with you?

Mr. BAHARI: Who is number enemy of the United States?

Mr. JONES: Al-Qaida.

Mr. BAHARI: Al-Qaida is also the number one enemy of Iran. According to al-
Qaida members, any Shia, any Iranian, has to be killed. And if you kill an
Iranian, you will go to heaven and you will have 72 virgins.

Mr. JONES: Enough of his Western-educated, Newsweek doublespeak.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: OK, that was Jason Jones from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" one year
ago interviewing my guest, Maziar Bahari. And not long after that interview,
Maziar Bahari was arrested in Iran for 118 days. He spent 118 days in Evin
Prison.

And how was this video, this "Daily Show" video used against you by your
interrogator when you were in prison?

Mr. BAHARI: On the first day when they arrested me, they told me that they knew
I was working for four different intelligence agencies: the CIA, Israeli
Mossad, MI6 and Newsweek magazine. But my guess at this point is that, in the
absence of any evidence to prove that I was a spy, they were just desperate.
They wanted to find some sort of evidence that proved I was a spy. And I'm sure
that someone in the U.S. or someone in Iran who filmed "The Daily Show" - that
sketch with Jason Jones and me - and sent it to them and said that this is this
guy who says that Iran and America, they have a lot in common. And he's talking
to a spy.

So I think they just put all this different circumstantial evidence together
and they said, well, if Jason Jones looks like a spy, if this guy gives
different names to people, then he must be a spy. And, you know, it just it was
so emblematic of this paranoid thinking that they had and, you know, that it
didn't even allow them to listen to the laugh track on "The Daily Show."

GROSS: Now, your father spent four years in prison under the shah.

Mr. BAHARI: Yeah.

GROSS: And you wrote that your father never asked for mercy. And he wondered
what he - you wondered what he'd think of you signing a confession, as fake as
that confession was, as limited as that confession was.

Mr. BAHARI: Yeah.

GROSS: Can you talk about that a little bit?

Mr. BAHARI: Well, my father was a member of the Communist Party of Iran, and he
was a political activist. And he had a political ideal and he was also tortured
in the 50s after the CIA-backed coup in 1953. And he - according to him and his
friends - never revealed the identity of his comrades.

And my situation was totally different because I never liked politics. I never
wanted to be part of a political group. I'm a cynic. I don't believe in
anything. And for me, it was just bizarre that even though I had tried all my
life not to be in prison, not to confront the authorities about anything, they
still could not tolerate someone who was as mild and peaceful as I was.

And it just - it was mind-boggling. And, of course, I was thinking about my
father and my father's ideals, which I did not believe in. But I - when I
confronted the - my torturer, I could not not think that my father was tortured
by the same kind of person - working for another regime, of course, but the
same kind of ignorant person.

GROSS: So when did you decide that, OK, I'm going to give a confession, a
limited confession? How long did you hold out, and when did you decide that it
would be better for you to give some kind of confession?

Mr. BAHARI: After they accused me of espionage, they said that one night they
took me to a room and they told me that we're going to charge you with
espionage. And unlike any other judicial process, in espionage cases, you have
to prove you're innocent. Otherwise, you're guilty.

And the guy - who was different from my interrogator. He was my interrogator's
boss, I think. He said that the investigation may take six or seven years, and
at the end of six or seven years, we may find that you are not a spy. And we'll
say that we are sorry, and we'll just let you go. Or if we find that you're a
spy, we're going to execute you. So I had a very limited choice. I had to do a
confession, or I had to be charged with espionage.

GROSS: So, at that point, you figured, do the confession.

Mr. BAHARI: Yes.

GROSS: But did the confession get you out of prison, or was it the
international pressure that got you out of prison?

Mr. BAHARI: No, no. It was the international pressure, definitely. I think my
colleagues in Newsweek, in Washington Post Company, in Channel 4 News in the
UK, and especially my wife Paola, they campaigned for me tirelessly. And it was
just amazing. When I came out, I realized what an amazing job they had done,
and I never can thank them enough. But it was the international pressure and it
was the comments made by different officials, including Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and many other officials around the world who talked about my
case in private, sometimes, to the Iranian officials.

So it was an amazing job that my friends and colleagues in Newsweek and other
places did for me, and that led to my release. And that's why I think that I
have to do the same thing for hundreds of people who do not have the same
opportunity as I had while I was in prison. I have to be their voice, and I
have to talk on their behalf.

GROSS: Your wife gave birth to, I think, your first child...

Mr. BAHARI: Yes.

GROSS: ...nine days after you got out of prison.

Mr. BAHARI: Yeah.

GROSS: That must've been just such an amazing experience for you.

Mr. BAHARI: Oh, it was. You know, I - while I was in prison, I was always
thinking that the day that my daughter was going to be born, it could be the
best day of my life or it could be the worst day of my life if I'm not going to
be with Paola in London. And fortunately, it was the best day of my life,
because I was with Paola. But it was - I mean, Paola had to suffer through a
lot because of what the Iranian government did to me.

GROSS: It appears that as long as this regime is in power, you cannot go back
to Iran. It sounds pretty certain like you'd be arrested the moment you set
foot there. How - what does it mean to you to know that for an indefinite
amount of time - maybe never - will you be able to go back?

Mr. BAHARI: I mean, it makes me really sad. And it makes me really sad for my
daughter because I really wanted my daughter to be able to go to Iran to visit
her family in Iran. Paola's never been to Iran, either but it's not possible.
And - but it's something that I have to deal with.

I always tell people it's like being in an accident and some drunk driver has
made me handicapped. And I have to live with my handicap. So, you know, not
being able to go back to Iran is like that for me. It's a big damage to my
life, but I have to live with it because if I go back to Iran, I will be
imprisoned, and who knows what's going to happen to me.

BIANCULLI: Maziar Bahari speaking to Terry gross one year ago.

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's June 2010 interview with Newsweek
correspondent Maziar Bahari. She spoke to him one year after he was imprisoned
in Iran for 118 days, accused of being a spy. He's written a book about his
ordeal which will be published next week. It's called "Then They Came For Me: A
Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival.

GROSS: Right before you were arrested, you wrote your editors in America at
Newsweek: This is the beginning of the end of the Islam Republic as we know it.
I don't know how long it's going to take for the Islamic regime to fall.
Khamenei has learned many lessons from the Shah's downfall, and is not making
the same mistakes.

So, at that time, you were very optimistic about the opposition movement. How
do you feel now about that statement that you think it's the end of the Islamic
Republic as we know it?

Mr. BAHARI: I still feel the same. I think that the Islamic Republic government
started to dig its own grave on the 19th of June last year when Khamenei, the
supreme leader of Iran, put a distance between himself and the people of Iran.

But I just have to make it clear that I do not think that people of Iran want
to have a revolution. People want to have a reform. There are two movements in
Iran right now. One is for dictatorship and one is for democracy.

Many Iranians and the increasing number of Iranians are becoming more
individualistic. They are thinking about individual freedoms. They are thinking
about their rights as citizens of Iran. They do not want to be part of this
Ummah, which is a Islamic state. They do not want to be subject of an Islamic
ruler.

And on the other side you have people who are followers of Khamenei. Some of
them honestly follow Khamenei and they think that Khamenei is the God's,
Allah's representative on Earth and his words are Allah's words. So there's
this two main trends going on in Iran and I'm very hopeful about the future of
Iran because I see that as more and more Iranians are becoming educated, as
more and more Iranians are getting in touch with the rest of the world,
communicate with the rest of the world, they believe in their individual
freedoms and they believe in the fact that no government can represent Allah on
the Earth.

And this struggle may continue for decades. I mean, just think about the Soviet
Union. When Stalin died in 1953, it took 36 years for the Berlin Wall to
collapse. The government may be in power for a few years or a few decades but a
few years or a few decades compared to 2,500 years of Iranian history and even
more is nothing.

GROSS: I'd like to end our interview with a song by Leonard Cohen, because that
seems to be a theme that ran through your imprisonment. There were three songs
that you've mentioned that went through your mind while you were in prison: "So
Long, Marianne," "The Partisan" and "Sisters of Mercy." And I guess I'm
wondering if he knows the...

Mr. BAHARI: Power.

GROSS: ...part that his music played while you were in prison?

Mr. BAHARI: I don't know. I haven't been in touch with him.

GROSS: OK.

Mr. BAHARI: But Leonard Cohen basically provided the soundtrack to my
imprisonment. And...

GROSS: In your mind, right? This is just all in your mind.

Mr. BAHARI: In my mind. Of course, all in my mind. They - no, they didn't allow
me to have an iPod in prison. And it was just amazing to me that this very
cynical Jewish Canadian singer-songwriter can help me in the naval of this
dictatorship in a prison in Iran. That was really liberating, you know, because
that was a secret between me and Leonard Cohen, that my interrogator and my
prison guards they did not know anything about. So that was my little secret
and that really helped me to endure the pains in prison.

GROSS: Do you want to choose the song?

Mr. BAHARI: "Sisters of Mercy." Yeah, "Sisters of Mercy" was the main song that
reoccurred in my dreams and I hummed it all the time. Yeah, that was the main
song. And it's such a beautiful song as well.

GROSS: Well, Maziar Bahari, I thank you very much for talking with us. And I'm
glad you're continuing to work on behalf of journalists who are still in prison
in Iran. And I'm very glad that you are not one of those journalists who is in
prison. So...

Mr. BAHARI: Thank you. Thanks very much.

BIANCULLI: Maziar Bahari speaking to Terry gross last June. His book, "Then
They Came For Me," comes out next week published by Random House.

We checked back with Maziar Bahari this week to get an update. He wrote us
quote, "My mother and other members of my family are fine. She is still in
Iran. Iran is her country, her home and she doesn't want to live anywhere else.
The specter of violence in Iran really scares me," he continues. "The regime is
brutalizing people in hope of making people more violent. Violence is the only
language the government in Iran understands and they're very good at it. What
really frightens them is logical and peaceful opposition. So I'm in the process
of making a film about the history of nonviolent movements around the world. We
start with Gandhi, then show Mandela, the peaceful toppling of Milosevic in
Yugoslavia, Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt and then ask the question: How
can others learned lessons from these movements?" Unquote.

Maziar Bahari lives in London with his wife and daughter. Here is Leonard
Cohen.

(Soundbite of song, "Sisters of Mercy")

Mr. LEONARD COHEN (Musician): (Singing) Oh, the Sisters of Mercy, they are not
departed or gone. They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can't go
on. And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song. Oh,
I hope you run into them, you who've been traveling so long.

Yes, you, who must leave everything that you cannot control; It begins with
your family but soon it comes 'round to your soul. Well, I've been where you're
hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned. When you're feeling not holy,
your loneliness says that you've sinned.

BIANCULLI: Coming, David Edelstein reviews the new Mike Mills film "Beginners."

This is FRESH AIR.
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'Beginners': A Marvelously Inventive Comedy

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The writer and director Mike Mills began his career as a graphic designer. His
first feature was the 2005 adaptation of the Walter Kirn novel "Thumbsucker."
Now, Mills has a new film, a semi-autobiographical comedy called "Beginners."
It stars Ewan McGregor as a commercial illustrator and Christopher Plummer as
his father who comes out at age 75.

Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: There's a genre of romantic comedy perfected by Woody Allen in
"Annie Hall" that, when done right, can make you feel not just happy but
liberated. It's philosophical and free-form, jumping around in time, indulging
in flights of fantasy like a first-person comic novel. With "Beginners," Mike
Mills puts himself in a league with Allen and Charlie Kaufman; the movie is
marvelously inventive, and all those inventions - flashbacks, slide shows, even
a telepathic Jack Russell Terrier with subtitled dialogue - pull you deep into
the miasma of its tortured hero's mind.

Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, a commercial illustrator who, as "Beginners"
begins, is cleaning out the house of his late father, Hal - who, like Mills'
own father, came out as gay when his wife of more than four decades died. Hal
is played in flashbacks woven all through the film by Christopher Plummer - but
not the more familiar, sinister Plummer. As Hal, he's light and lithe, joyously
uncomplicated, buoyed by his new life among the boys in the open.

He doesn't brood about the past or worry too much that his hunky younger lover,
Andy, played by Goran Visjnic, is emotionally unstable and sleeps around. When
he receives the news of his terminal cancer, he silently takes it in and says
to Oliver sitting beside him, let's not rush out and tell everyone. He wants to
keep the party going. Later when Hal is more in feeble and needs to be shaped
by his son, he wonders, why Oliver can't find someone too.

(Soundbite of movie, "Beginners")

Mr. CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER (Actor): (as Hal) Maybe you should take out a personal
ad, you know, where you can explain your situation.

Mr. EWAN MCGREGOR (Actor): (as Oliver) My situation?

Mr. PLUMMER: (as Hal) Yeah. I mean you want to be in a relationship and you
can't stay in one.

Mr. MCGREGOR: (as Oliver) That's your fatherly advice, personal ads?

Mr. PLUMMER: (as Hal) Well, a lot of people use them. I did.

Mr. MCGREGOR: (as Oliver) What?

Mr. PLUMMER: (as Hal) If Andy wasn't going to be monogamous why should I be?

EDELSTEIN: McGregor watches Plummer with plainly muddled emotions: love, pride
and quiet resentment over the plight of Oliver's late mother, who suffered for
reasons that are only now apparent. It's a remarkably centered performance,
giving truth to the suggestion I've heard that McGregor is the best film
leading man of his generation as long as the budget is below $20 million. He's
adorably melancholy in his scenes with the French actress named Anna played By
Melanie Laurent, who was Shoshanna in "Inglourious Basterds." Their first
encounter at a costume party isn't just meet cute. It's meet omigod the cutest
ever.

Anna is flirty and whimsical and very funny. But director Mills wants you to
see, little by little, that she has her own family issues and is better at
play-acting than being. She tells Oliver that she likes how he doesn't really
know her.

Mills' wonderfully tricky syntax allows his alter ego Oliver to ruminate aloud
on the forces that have kept him and keep him now from staying with a woman. He
works on a series of cartoons depicting the history of sadness since the birth
of the world. He narrates for us little slide shows of archetypal photos of the
era in which being pegged as gay could cost you everything, and wonders if
growing up in the family with secrets made him secretive too.

He ruminates on how genes shape his and every other personality, telling
Arthur, the Jack Russell Terrier he inherited from his father that the dog
doesn't really want to chase. It's just that Jack Russells were bred for fox
hunts, and now they're best known for looking cute in movies.

Arthur might have stolen "Beginners" were it not for a cast that inspires you
to empty your bag of superlatives — not just Plummer, McGregor and Laurent, but
Mary Page Keller in flashbacks as Oliver's seething mom, and Goran Visjnic, who
makes Hal's boyfriend both endearing and unnerving.

The movie loses some of its charm as Oliver and Anna grow too close for their
comfort. But that's also the point where the title of the movie makes sense.
Like his dad coming out at 75, Oliver is a relationship neophyte - a beginner.
What a glorious way to end a comedy, just when the characters have to get
serious.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can join
us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. And you can download
podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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