Rosewater: An Iranian journalist’s journey from prison to silver screen

In 2009, the sketch comedian Jason Jones traveled to Iran to interview Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari for “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Shortly after the disputed June 12 elections, the series of reports aired amid a brutal crackdown on Iranian journalists and the opposition. Bahari was among those arrested. Among the “evidence” presented by his interrogators–one of whom smelled like rosewater–was his interview with the fake news show, which they claimed was proof he had spoken with an American spy. When they could not get those charges to stick they made up a new one: “media espionage.”

Over his 118 days of incarceration, Bahari was tortured, put in solitary confinement, forced to indict himself, and told frequently that no one cared about him. But this was far from the truth. News publications, including Newsweek, highlighted his case, foreign diplomats spoke about him to Iranian officials, and more than 100 global journalists signed CPJ’s petition to Iran to demand his release. On October 17, 2010, Bahari was released.

In spring of 2013, CPJ hosted a panel discussion with Stewart and Bahari on censorship and power in Iran, focusing on journalists imprisoned there. The talk followed a screening of Bahari’s first film, “Forced Confessions,” describing the tactic employed by the Iranian regime against journalists including Bahari.

In November 2014, Bahari and Stewart are launching the movie “Rosewater,” which highlights the role that sustained international advocacy and media attention can play in protecting prisoners from the worst abuses and getting journalists released from prison. It also underscores the double-edged nature of technology and the need to protect journalists and their right to report in the digital age.

While Stewart is best known for his comedy, he has also shown a strong commitment to freedom of the press. In 2013, he presented Egyptian television host Bassem Youssef with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award.

CPJ is participating in several screenings and discussions about the issues raised in the film, including:

  • November 4 – at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, with CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon
  • November 9 – at the Newseum, Washington, D.C., with CPJ advisory board member Gwen Ifill

The film’s premier will be on November 12 in New York. You can keep track of discussion and events relating to the film on Twitter under the account @RosewaterMovie.