Award-winning journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari shared his experiences with more than 250 NSU students, faculty, family, and community members at the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center on Oct. 18 as a part of the Distinguished Speaker Series.
Marlissa Santos, director of the Division of Humanities at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences said, “In relation to our theme,‘Life and Death’, Mr. Bahari’s experiences underscore the tremendous risk and power of journalism. He shows how news media can affect personal life and conveys the message of tragedy and hope.”
Prior to the main event, a seminar was held in which 12 selected students, from NSU’s Honor Program and First Year Reading Program, had a question and answer session with Bahari.
During his main speech, Bahari told stories from his days as a university student, his years as a journalist and his career as a filmmaker, along with sharing his experiences in solitary confinement and torture in an Iranian prison.
As a Newsweek correspondent reporting on the 2009 Iranian Presidential Elections and outbreak of protests, Bahari was arrested on accusation of being a spy for Iran’s Mossad, Britain’s MI6 Intelligence, and the United States CIA.
Freshman Miranda Secumes, communication studies major, said, “He made me more determined to learn about other countries and reiterated the importance of journalism. His story reminded me of journalist Laura Ling and her story of capture in North Korea’s prison camp.”
Bahari said, “I was always careful and censored my writing, but I betrayed myself when I ended up in prison. It was a difficult balancing act, being Iranian and writing about the truth. I had to protect my integrity.”
Bahari was sentenced to 13 and half years in prison and 74 lashes on six charges. The charges consisted of five years for unlawful assembly and conspiracy against state security; four years for collecting and keeping classified documents; two years for insulting Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; one year for propaganda against the system; one year and 74 lashes for disrupting public order; and six months for insulting the pres-ident.
He also was forced to give a televised false confession. He later sued that television network, and they were shut down last year.
After 118 days of imprisonment, when international awareness pressured Iran and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed interest in Bahari’s case, he was released on $300 thousand bail.
Bahari said that the Iranian government has intensified and until this day, they remain in the world’s top three countries to imprison journalists.
Since Bahari’s release, he has been the only highly profiled, released prisoner to have his story reported on a Newsweek, CNN and CBS’s “60 Minutes”, among other media outlets. He says that he has a burden on his shoulder to be the voice of imprisoned journalists in Iran and around the world.
While working in Iran, Bahari used to screen his documentaries to Iranian university students, who are “so much different from government. All they want is a stable, peaceful, and secure future and do not want any revolutions. But at the same time, cannot afford to risk their lives to speak out.”
Stephen Andon, assistant professor in the Division of Humanities, said, “It is important to consider what unites us, rather than what separates us. Young people, much like NSU students, are dealing with the ramifications of a global recession and an uncertainty that awaits the rest of their lives.”
Bahari said that about 65 percent of students are women and this scares the regime, which is why they have tried to cut students’ resources, such as Google and YouTube, just last week. He said that Iranians need knowledge of the world; through the younger citizens, he envisions a brighter future.
“As American university students, you should be thankful to have the rights to vote and speak freely. You are privileged to live in a democratic society,” he said.
In college, Bahari majored in communications studies. He said that all communication students must be open to new realities, be multi-skilled and be versatile because in this digital age, everyone is a source of information.
Andon said, “Mr. Bahari’s experiences brought together a number of different avenues for consideration – mixing law, journalism, and communication studies. As a member of the news media and a filmmaker, his work reveals the important job that media has as ‘the Fourth Estate’ to bring a critical perspective and make the public aware of what is happening throughout our world. [It] highlights injustice in the world.”
Bahari closed the program with these words: “Never be satisfied or certain with what you know. Uncertainty is a virtue.”
Andon said, “I hope that Mr. Bahari’s speech will remind us of the challenges that young people face in Iran but also grants us hope that this demographic will soon see a free and democratic Iran.”
After the Distinguished Speaker Event, Bahari held a book signing for his memoir, “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival,” a New York Times bestseller.