Author Topic: “If you’re an artist we’ll beat you artistically" LOL  (Read 91 times)


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“If you’re an artist we’ll beat you artistically" LOL
« on: January 02, 2010, 07:11:15 AM »
As the protesters lay blindfolded in an Iranian paramilitary van, blows and death threats rained down on them. One, however, was singled out for particular punishment.

Afshin Ghaffarian’s identity papers described him as an actor, a profession that was not to the liking of the Basij militia commander in charge of the operation. “If you’re an artist we’ll beat you artistically,” he said.

What the commander did not know, and it would have sealed the 23-year-old’s fate if he had found out, was that acting was a cover.

Ghaffarian is a dancer — an activity banned by Iran’s Islamic rulers and punishable by long prison terms. “If he had known that he would have beaten me even harder,” Ghaffarian said.

He recounted the incident that could have cost him his freedom, and perhaps his life, in an interview with The Times in Paris. His story illustrates the oppression under Iran’s regime, but also the courage and ingenuity of those opposing it.

As a student in Tehran he would spend hours on his computer looking for videos of the West’s greatest contemporary dancers such as the American Merce Cunningham, who died this year. “I had to do it because this was my inspiration, my ignition. I just wanted to explore new ways of expression and this was my only source of information,” he said.

He formed an underground dance company with four other performers while studying for a degree in theatre studies at the University of Tehran. They danced to music, touched each other and even appeared on stage partially undressed — all crimes under Iranian law.

After a year of clandestine rehearsals the company risked a public performance. “We chose 15 spectators, who included professors from my university, and drove them in a bus to the desert 50km [30 miles] out of Tehran,” Ghaffarian said.

The landscape was vast, barren and inhospitable but, for Ghaffarian, it was a stage for the freedom that he craved. “It was a great experience,” he said. “It was dangerous but, in Iran, danger is part of our lives every day.”

The company broke up in 2008, largely because Ghaffarian’s fellow performers were reluctant to continue. He joined an authorised theatre company where he trod a thin line between acting and dance.

He describes dance as his passion, but also a form of protest against the intolerance of the Islamic Republic. So, when demonstrations broke out after this summer’s disputed election, he was quick to join them. “I felt it was my duty to do something,” he said.

Using the training he had acquired during his theatre studies, he filmed the protests and the police response and posted his videos on the internet.

It was while filming in Haft-e-Tir Square, Tehran, on June 22, that he was arrested by the Basij and thrown into a van with about 30 other protesters. He spent ten hours in the vehicle, where he was beaten and told that he was a dead man.

He was then taken to a military camp, beaten some more and finally driven out of the capital and released. “I can only think there was no more room in the jails that day and they just did not know what to do with us,” he said. Ghaffarian was lucky — and he was to get lucky again when a German theatre director invited his company to an Iranian cultural festival in Mülheim an der Ruhr, in western Germany, this autumn.

He thought that he would not be allowed to go after his arrest. Yet, amid the chaos, the militia had failed to send his details to the bureaucrats responsible for approving his journey. They told him to pay €10,000 (£8,875) for a passport and let him go.

His final performance in Germany was memorable. As the play ended, he appeared with a green wristband in a show of support for the opposition Green Movement, holding one hand over his mouth to symbolise the country’s repression of free speech and forming a victory sign with the other.

Some of the audience clapped. Others cried. Before his Iranian Government minders could react, however, Ghaffarian had left the theatre and headed for France where his talents have been recognised by the National Centre for Dance. “I’ve been invited to go there every day,” he said. “It’s incredible to be able to do everything that I was forbidden from doing in Iran.”