'They Are Heroes of Our Time': Maziar Bahari on the Fight to Protect Journalists

Nov 21, 2017

When journalist Maziar Bahari went to his home country Iran in 2009, he had no idea what was in store for him. As protests mounted in opposition to the re-election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad, Bahari was imprisoned by the Iranian Government - simply for doing his job.

An international campaign led to his release more than 100 days later - and his story was immortalized in his memoir, Then They Came For Me, and the Jon Stewart Film, Rosewater. Now, he's working to free other journalists with Journalism is Not a Crime, an organization he founded to help imprisoned journalists around the world. 

"When you hear that 57 journalists are arrested in Turkey, for example, or 37 arrested in Russia or China or Iran - these are not only numbers, these are human beings with families, with stories, with loved ones."

"When you hear that 57 journalists are arrested in Turkey, for example, or 37 arrested in Russia or China or Iran - these are not only numbers, these are human beings with families, with stories, with loved ones," says Bahari. 

Long before his fateful trip back to Iran, he was known for something else. Bahari is thought to be the first Muslim to make a film about the Holocaust, called The Voyage of the St. Louis. This film haunted his time imprisoned in Iran, where they accused him of being an spy for Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad. 

Bahari is currently working on a film called 82 Names, which recounts the experiences of Syrian journalist Mansour Omari. While imprisoned in a notorious prison in Damascus, Omari risked his life by compiling a list of names of other detainees and smuggling it out of the prison. 

"Many people in power - as you know in this country, of course - have made journalists number 1 enemies."

"Many journalists, they are heroes of our time. When you think about the... positive effect that journalism has had on our societies all around the world and how journalism has made societies a better society by making people in power more accountable, you can see the risks that journalists are taking," he says.

Bahari continues, "And as a result, many people in power - as you know in this country, of course - have made journalists number 1 enemies." 

Maziar Bahari was in Milwaukee to give a speech at the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center.