Maziar Bahari

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Maziar Bahari
Born (1967-05-25) May 25, 1967 (age 56)
Alma materConcordia University
Occupation(s)Filmmaker, journalist
SpousePaola Gourley

Maziar Bahari (Persian: مازیار بهاری; born May 25, 1967) is an Iranian-Canadian[1] journalist, filmmaker and human rights activist.[2] He was a reporter for Newsweek from 1998 to 2011. Bahari was incarcerated by the Iranian government from June 21, 2009 to October 17, 2009,[3][4] and has written a family memoir, Then They Came for Me, a New York Times best seller. His memoir is the basis for Jon Stewart's 2014 film Rosewater. Bahari later founded the IranWire citizen journalism news site, the freedom of expression campaign Journalism Is Not A Crime and the education and public art organization Paint the Change.[5]

Family and education[edit]

Bahari was born in Tehran, Imperial State of Iran, but moved to Pakistan in 1987 before he immigrated to Canada in 1988 to study communications.[6] His family has been involved in dissident politics in Iran: his father was imprisoned by the Shah's regime in the 1950s, and his sister Maryam under the revolutionary government of Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s. He is married to Paola Gourley, an Italian-English lawyer working in London,[7] who gave birth to their first child in October 2009 shortly after his release from prison.[8]


He graduated with a degree in communications from Concordia University in Montreal in 1993, before continuing some additional studies at the nearby McGill University.[9] Soon after, Bahari made his first film, The Voyage of the Saint Louis, about the attempt by 937 German Jewish refugees to escape Nazi Germany on that ship in 1939, who were turned away by Cuba, the United States, and Canada, and ultimately forced to return to the Third Reich. In producing the film, Bahari became the first Muslim to make a film about the Holocaust. When asked what motivated him to make the film, he cited the courses he took at Concordia, where he:

studied the modern history of the Jews and I was fascinated by the history of the Jews in North America. I took a course on Freud and religion and the professor talked a lot about early 20th century anti-Semitism in the U.S. and Canada. I had no idea that even up until the 1950s Jews were discriminated against in North America, so I wanted to explore that further. As an immigrant, I was interested in the history of Jewish immigration from Europe to America. So I looked for a story to combine all these elements and came across the story of the St. Louis.[10]

Later, while he was imprisoned in Iran the film "haunted" him, with his interrogators accusing him of being on a mission to work for Zionists.[11]

In 1997 Bahari began reporting in Iran and making independent documentaries, and in 1998 he became Newsweek magazine's correspondent in Iran.[12]

He has produced a number of other documentaries and news reports for Channel 4, BBC and other broadcasters around the world on subjects as varied as private lives of Ayatollahs, African architecture, Iranians' passion for football and contemporary history of Iran. In 2003, Harvard Film Archive praised Bahari's work:

"In a country known for neorealist fiction films that focus on small events in the lives of individuals, the work of Iranian director Maziar Bahari is somewhat anomalous. Employing a traditional documentary style to explore more far-reaching cultural events, Bahari's films provide a glimpse inside contemporary Iranian culture as they reveal the human element behind the headlines and capture cultural truths through the lens of individual experience. Representing a new generation of young Iranian filmmakers, Bahari's trenchant looks at social issues in his country have brought both controversy and international acclaim."[13]

Bahari's films have won several awards and nominations including an Emmy in 2005.[14] A retrospective of Bahari's films was organized in November 2007 by the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.[15] In September 2009, Bahari was nominated by Desmond Tutu for the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, widely known as Spain's Nobel Prize.[16] In 2020, US Holocaust Memorial Museum conferred its highest honor Elie Wiesel Award on Bahari for his exceptional courage in bringing the truth of the Holocaust to Iran and throughout the Middle East. The Museum praised Bahari for being a powerful voice against antisemitism.[17]

Arrest, imprisonment, release[edit]

On the morning of June 21, 2009, during the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests, Bahari was arrested at his family's home in Tehran and taken to Evin Prison.[18] In July, while incarcerated, he appeared[19] in a televised confession (broadcast internationally by PressTV)[20] telling his interviewer that Western journalists worked as spies;[21] that he had covered "illegal demonstrations" and "illegal gatherings", and was helping promote a "colour revolution".[22][23]

His confession was dismissed by his family, his colleagues, and Reporters Without Borders, saying that it must have come under duress. Outside Iran, an international campaign to free him was headed by his wife and included petitions launched by Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship, International PEN, and groups of documentary filmmakers.[7] Newsweek ran full-page advertisements in several major newspapers calling for his release.[12] US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke publicly of his case.[3][4][24]

On October 17, after 118 days[25] in jail and charged with 11 counts of espionage, Bahari was released on $300,000 bail. Bahari says he was asked to promise to spy on dozens of "anti-revolutionary elements" inside and outside Iran for the Revolutionary Guard and report to them weekly (a promise that he had no intention of keeping).[26] He was allowed to leave the country and return to London days before the birth of his daughter.[27]


Bahari at Oslo Freedom Forum in 2018

After his release, Bahari recounted his time in prison in interviews and writings. He appeared on a segment of the television news program 60 Minutes[28] and was the subject of an article in Newsweek.[29] Bahari stated he confessed on television after physical and psychological torture. He was held in solitary confinement, interrogated daily (either blindfolded or made to face away from his interrogator),[25] threatened with execution, and repeatedly slapped, kicked, punched, and hit with a belt by his interrogator.[30] Bahari's interrogator told him they knew he (Bahari) "was working for four different intelligence agencies: the CIA, Mossad, MI6 and Newsweek." Bahari believes it was desperation to find "any evidence to prove I was a spy" that led his captors to believe his providing an American TV personality with a list of Iranians they could talk to in Iran, was evidence of his being a spy. (Bahari provided such a list shortly before he was interviewed by Jason Jones[31] a "correspondent" of The Daily Show, who dressed up as a spy as a joke for the story.)[21] He believes he was targeted to intimidate other international Iranian-born journalists, who can operate free of regime minders, blend in with crowds, and understand the cultural and linguistic nuances of the moves the regime makes (unlike foreign journalists).[31]

In interviews Bahari stated that his interrogator told him not to talk about what happened to him in prison, as the Revolutionary Guards have "people all around the world and they can always bring me back to Iran in a bag". Bahari has stated that he will not be able to safely return to Iran until the Islamic Republic falls.[28] In Iran he was tried in absentia by a revolutionary court, and sentenced to 13+12 years' imprisonment plus 74 lashes.[32]

Campaign for other jailed journalists in Iran[edit]

Upon his release, Bahari launched a campaign in support of other jailed journalists in Iran. The name of the campaign,[33] In an International Herald Tribune op-ed to launch the campaign Bahari wrote to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,

"You may feel safe in your modest house, protected by thousands of revolutionary guards. But beyond them the world is changing. Iran is changing. In 1978, as the shah was doing his best to stifle his people, Ayatollah Khomeini promised that 'in an Islamic Iran the media will have the freedom to express all Iran's realities and events.' Hoping they could realize that promise, Iranians rose up and overthrew the shah. Ayatollah Khamenei, those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it."[34]


Bahari launched IranWire in 2014, "to empower Iranian citizen journalists by creating a forum in which young Iranians can discuss national and local news, providing training modules and putting Iranian citizen journalists inside the country in touch with professional Iranian journalists." Although the website is bilingual, only a fraction of the Persian articles are in English. IranWire works with a number of prominent Iranian journalists including Shima Shahrabi, Aida Ghajar, Ehsan Mehrabi and Masih Alinejad. It has a partnership with Daily Beast. IranWire's initial website was designed and developed by Small Media Foundation.[35]

Press TV vs Maziar Bahari[edit]

After his release, Bahari launched a complaint against Iranian government's English satellite channel, Press TV, for filming and airing an interview with him under duress. In May 2011, Ofcom upheld Bahari's three complaints against Press TV. In the summary, Ofcom said Press TV's presentation of Bahari was unfair because it "omitted material facts and was placed in a context in which inferences adverse to Mr Bahari could be drawn". The media regulator also said that Press TV failed to get his consent and this "contributed to the overall unfairness to Mr Bahari in the item broadcast". Ofcom added that filming and broadcasting the interview without consent "while he was in a sensitive situation and vulnerable state was an unwarranted infringement of Mr Bahari's privacy".[20]

Upon the release of Ofcom's findings, Press TV launched a campaign against Bahari and Ofcom. Bahari was accused of being "an MI6 contact person". Press TV's failure to pay a £100,000 fine for showing Bahari's 'confession' was connected with the revocation of Press TV's licence to broadcast in the UK, via satellite, in January 2012.[36]

Awards and honors[edit]


Then They Came for Me[edit]

Bahari wrote a prison memoir and family history, Then They Came for Me. The book became a New York Times Best Seller and has been called "incredible" by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show who worked with Bahari on his film based on the book.[2][39] Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail called the book "Moving and, at times, very funny", and said that it "offers a number of lessons about the way Middle Eastern politics work."[40] Leslie Scrivener of The Toronto Star explained "Then They Came for Me is a gripping story that weaves his family's history of incarceration by Iranian rulers with his own."[41] Mother Jones magazine wrote that "Then They Came for Me is not only a fascinating, human exploration into Bahari's personal experience but it also provides insight into the shared experience of those affected by repressive governments everywhere."[42] Kirkus Reviews praised the book for "Providing an illuminating glimpse into the security apparatus of one of the world's most repressive countries. Especially timely given recent events throughout the Middle East, this book is recommended for anyone wishing to better understand the workings of a police state."[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Maziar Bahari Canadian scapegoat in Iran". The Globe and Mail. July 8, 2009. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Exclusive - Maziar Bahari Extended Interview Pt. 1 - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - 06/06/11 - Video Clip | Comedy Central". June 6, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Newsweek: Journalist detained in Iran now in UK". Associated Press. October 20, 2009. Retrieved October 21, 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Newsweek Reporter Maziar Bahari Released in Iran". Newsweek. Retrieved October 20, 2009.
  5. ^ "#PaintTheChange". #PaintTheChange. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
  6. ^ Staff, (February 2, 2015). "Maziar Bahari | Biography and Filmography | 1965". Retrieved October 19, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Dickey, Christopher (August 3, 2009). "100 Iranians on trial, one baby's future in the balance - The Daily Beast". Newsweek. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
  8. ^ Bahari, Maziar. "'Then They Came For' Journalist Maziar Bahari". NPR. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
  9. ^ "Maziar Bahari". Retrieved 2016-01-25.
  10. ^ "118 Days in Iran's Evin Prison - Page 2 of 3 - Moment Magazine". Moment Magazine. 19 July 2011. Retrieved 2016-02-16.
  11. ^ Nadine Epstein (July–August 2011). "118 Days in Iran's Evin Prison". Moment Magazine. Retrieved June 30, 2011.
  12. ^ a b Stelter, Brian (2009-08-03). "Newsweek Steps Up Effort to Free Reporter in Iran". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
  13. ^ "Maziar Bahari - Harvard Film Archive". 2003-05-13. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  14. ^ "Previous Finalists". The Rory Peck Trust. Archived from the original on 2012-03-24. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  15. ^ "Global Writers and Filmmakers Call for Bahari's Release". Newsweek. 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
  16. ^ "Free Maziar Bahari". New York Times. 2009-09-08. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
  17. ^ "2020 Elie Wiesel Award — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum". Retrieved May 30, 2023.
  18. ^ "NEWSWEEK Reporter Arrested Without Charge in Iran - The Daily Beast". 2009-06-20. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  19. ^ Gravshon, Michael; Magratten, Drew (2009-11-22). "Newsweek's Bahari Recalls Iran Detention". 60 Minutes. CBS News. pp. 2–3. Archived from the original on 2009-12-01. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
  20. ^ a b Sweney, Mark (23 May 2011). "Iran's Press TV censured for interview with arrested journalist". Guardian. London. Retrieved 2011-07-09.
  21. ^ a b Bahari, Maziar. "Newsweek Reporter's Ordeal in Iran". Newsweek. p. 5. Archived from the original on 2009-11-25. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
  22. ^ Erdbrink, Thomas; William Branigin (2009-07-01). "Iran's Leadership Cautions Against Protest After Certification of Vote Results". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
  23. ^ Canwest News Service (2009-10-20). "Journalist Maziar Bahari released from Iranian jail". Archived from the original on 2012-11-07. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
  24. ^ Christopher Dickey (2009-10-21). "Maziar Bahari's Ordeal in Tehran Prison - The Daily Beast". Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  25. ^ a b Dickey, Christopher (2009-10-22). "'Everyone Has Forgotten You'". Newsweek. Retrieved 2009-10-25.
  26. ^ Bahari, Maziar Then They Came for Me, A Family's Story of Love, Captivity and Survival, Random House, 2011, p.275-6
  27. ^ "Newsweek's Bahari Recalls Iran Detention". CBS News. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  28. ^ a b "Preview: Witness – 60 Minutes". CBS News. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  29. ^ Maziar Bahari (2009-11-21). "Newsweek Reporter's Ordeal in Iran". Newsweek. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  30. ^ "Newsweek's Bahari Recalls Iran Detention". CBS News. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  31. ^ a b "A Year Later, Journalist Reflects On Iranian Unrest". NPR. 2010-06-15. Retrieved 2010-07-08.
  32. ^ Bahari, Maziar Then They Came for Me, A Family's Story of Love, Captivity and Survival, Random House, 2011, p.310
  33. ^ CPJ Impact (2010-04-18). "CPJ Impact – Committee to Protect Journalists". Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  34. ^ Bahari, Maziar (2010-02-10). "Let My Colleagues Go". The New York Times.
  35. ^ "IranWire". Retrieved May 30, 2023.
  36. ^ "Iran's Press TV loses UK licence", BBC News, 20 January 2012
  37. ^ "Irakli Kakabadze among the recipients of the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award". ICORN. November 2009. Archived from the original on April 20, 2012. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  38. ^ ""To Light a Candle", A Documentary Film by Maziar Bahari". Hamid and Chistina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies, Stanford University. May 10, 2014. Archived from the original on April 29, 2014. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
  39. ^ "Stewart to take time off from 'Daily Show,' direct feature film". March 5, 2013. Retrieved March 5, 2013.
  40. ^ Saunders, Doug (2011-07-02). "Tossing information grenades over Middle Eastern walls - The Globe and Mail". The Globe and Mail. Toronto.
  41. ^ Scrivener, Leslie (2011-06-17). "Black comedy in an Iranian prison". The Star. Toronto.
  42. ^ Hamed Aleaziz. "Tales from a Torture Chamber". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  43. ^ Nafisi, Azar (2011-06-07). "THEN THEY CAME FOR ME by Maziar Bahari, Aimee MolloyKirkus Book Reviews". Retrieved 2011-12-28.

External links[edit]

Media related to Maziar Bahari at Wikimedia Commons