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Iranian actor calls for famous actress in exile to be welcomed back

A well-respected actor has shocked Iran by saying in a TV interview that Golshifteh Farahani, the renowned Iranian actress living in exile in France, should be respected for her choices and allowed back in Iran.
Cast member Golshifteh Farahani poses during a photocall for the film "Paterson" in competition at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Regis Duvignau  TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSEJ46

Javad Hashemi, a famous Iranian actor who is best known for his blockbuster roles as a compassionate Basij soldier, has caused controversy by saying in a televised interview, “If I were in office in the Islamic Republic and [Golshifteh Farahani] said that she wanted to return, I would say 'come back.'"

Farahani is a well-known Iranian actress who after playing in Ridley Scott’s "Body of Lies" in 2008 appeared without hijab at the New York premiere, leading to her being banned from working by the Iranian government. Farahani was also an outspoken supporter of the 2009 demonstrations in Iran from her new home in France. Her most provocative act, however, was when she appeared topless in a video to promote the Césars, the "French Oscars," in 2012, causing an outcry in the Persian-language media and threats against her family members in Iran.

In an Oct. 16 television appearance, Hashemi revealed that he had been approached and asked to give an interview condemning Farahani. Hashemi, who is often respectably addressed in the media by the honorifics of "haji" or "seyyed," rejected the request, saying, “Why should I do that? It is her decision. It must be respected.”

Hashemi also mentioned another actress who stirred debate and public confrontations in 2014 when she decided to forego makeup and colorful scarves in favor of the conservative black chador. Comparing the different choices made by the two actresses, Hashemi said, “Mrs. Elham Charkhandeh prefers to dress this way. It is her business. It must be respected.”

Hashemi’s comments in favor of personal freedom surprised the hard-liners in Iran and triggered strong reactions. On Oct. 17, Javan Online, which has ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, published an article headlined, “Is it possible to respect righteousness and sin at the same time?”

This headline referred to a comment by Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi, an influential scholar and a member of Iran’s Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, comparing the two actresses. Disagreeing with Hashemi, Rahimpour Azghadi said, "One can't say we should respect the choices of someone who has publicly sinned.”

The discussions of whether artists in exile should return to Iran surface from time to time. On Oct. 13, another TV interview raised eyebrows during the holy month of Moharram. Highly respected eulogist Gholam Koveyti Pour asked, “What act of sin did our Behrouz Vossoughi commit that he has to meet his elderly father behind the Turkish borders?”

Vossoughi, the legendary actor known as the Iranian James Dean, has not returned to Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and is often spoken of in an anti-revolutionary context.

In the case of Vossoughi and Farahani, Javan Online reported, “The Islamic Republic has not denied these people their nationalities to prevent their return. But the discussion of whether the Muslim community will embrace their activities is a different issue, and the answer is obvious.”

In other news, the Iranian judiciary's official Mizan news agency announced Oct. 18 that detained Iranian-Americans Mohammad Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi have each been sentenced to 10 years in prison for "espionage and cooperation with the US government." The same statement noted that Iranian nationals Farhad Abdesaleh, Kamran Ghaderi and Alireza Omidvar have each also been sentenced to 10 years in prison on similar charges, in addition to Lebanese national and US resident Nizar Zakka. The sentencing of the Namazis follows the surfacing of footage of Siamak's arrest on Oct. 17.

Mizan offered no further details. In a statement, Babak Namazi, brother to Siamak, said, “It is with utter shock and dismay that we have learned of the news of the unjust sentencing of my 80-year-old father Baquer Namazi and my brother Siamak Namazi — both Iranian-Americans — to 10 years in prison each. In the case of my father, this is tantamount to a life sentence. This follows one court session of a few hours for each of them. The details of the charges are unknown to us as of yet.”

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