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Prisoners Of Conscience : Akbar Ganji A Hero Similar To Yves Montand Portrayal In Costa Gavras' Film " The Confession "




Akbar Ganji's predicament in the prison cell's of the Islamic Republic of Iran has caught worldwide attention as his health has deteriorated after more than 60 days of a hunger strike which may well lead to his death. A former revolutionary, he has nevertheless demanded the removal of the "supreme leader" that is Ayatollah Khamenei the spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic who holds a firm hand on the political and military leadership of the theocratic regime. Akbar Ganji calls for a secular democracy, and he was one of the first to denounce the IRI's political assassinations in the 1990's.



Shirine Ebadi and 8 other Nobel Prize Winners have called for his immediate release (, and intellectuals worldwide have been concerned by Ganji's fate. Amongst them are former President of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel, also a former dissident during the Communist era who spent several years in the Communist cells of his country.


Watching Ganji's photos in his cell published on various Iranian websites, I was struck by the similarities of Ganji's situation and that of the hero of Costa Gavras' powerful film The Confession aka L'Aveu starring French actor Yves Montand. The film shot in 1970 (shortly after another much acclaimed political thriller Z also starring Yves Montand ) was based on the true events in the life of Czechoslovakian communist Artur London. He was a loyal supporter of communism for all his adult life, serving in the French Resistance during the Second World War and supporting the civil war in Spain.  Now, in 1951, he is the deputy minister for foreign affairs in Czechoslovakia.  One day, he discovers that he is being followed; and shortly after he is arrested and taken away to a makeshift prison.  Without knowing why he has been arrested or who his captors are, London is ordered to confess to his crimes against the State.  Ultimately, he cracks and he signs a confession, but soon finds himself in a show trial where he and many of his colleagues are accused of treason...


The film offers a shocking and vivid portrayal of the brutal methods used by the police during the Stalinist regime, and also evokes the insane paranoia which marked this period of political turmoil in Eastern Europe. Yves Motand gives one of his best performances; he had lost a great deal of weight in order to faithfully personify the mental and physical endurances faced by political prisoners of conscience in a totalitarian state. Ironically the movie's poster with Yves Montand wearing dark glasses with a rope about to hang him has become as emblematic as Che Guevara's famous picture which was worn on University Campuses worldwide as a sign of revolt against any form of establishment.


I personally recall seeing the poster for this film in the early days of the revolution back in my hometown Shiraz. Many political movies were being shown at the time in Cinemas and if I remember well this was shown in Cinema sa'adi. The violent aspect of the poster intrigued me and it was much later that I discovered what the movie was about.


Akbar Ganji's motivations are  of course very different from those of the hero of The Confession in that Ganji is voluntarily on a hunger strike whereas Artur London is subject to torture by the authorities of the regime. However it appears clear that in both cases they are examples of prisoners of conscience who after having been loyal to an ideology they come to realize that the ideals they supported were being betrayed by the regimes they so faithfully served.

The film shows one particular scene when having been liberated after several years of imprisonment, Artur London in exile decides to denounce the situation in Prague at the Congress of the French Communist Party. However London returns to his native country encouraged by the events of the Czechoslovakian Revolution of 1968. His hopes are short-lived for the revolt is crushed by Soviet Tanks. London notices the degree of betrayal of his revolutionary ideals when he sees students writing the following slogan on the walls: "Lenin Wake Up, They Have Gone Mad ..."

What is interesting in Costa Gavras' movie is that it transcends the political regime it denounces by becoming a pamphlet against all totalitarian regimes. The comparison therefore to the situation in the IRI prisons is inevitable. How can we forget the long list of political prisoners such as Ahmad Batebi, a student holding a bloody t-shirt in a demonstration against police brutality. He has been in prison for seven years, along with the Mohammadi brothers. There's the journalist Siamak Pourzand, who is 74 and in poor health, imprisoned for several years. There's the human rights lawyer Nasser Zarafshan, sitting in Evin prison for no good reason. He's now joined by Ganji's lawyer, Abdolfattah Soltani, arrested a couple of weeks ago. Parastoo Foroohar is still chasing the Intelligence Ministry agents who hacked her parents to death in 1998 for opposing undemocratic, religious rule. Several other high-profile murders of writers around the same time have remained unsolved. Last year photographer Zahra Kazemi was killed by a blow to the head during interrogation in the presence of Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi.

Costa Gavras' film is an essential movie to see or rediscover for it remains one of the most powerful films in the political thriller's genre and alas is a reminder of the sad predicament of prisoners of conscience such as Akbar Ganji and all those who are dying in the name of Freedom.

Author's note: The Confession is unavailable on DVD or Video unlike Costa Gavras' other films. It truly deserves to be reissued.


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