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Iran's Human Rights Record; Imagine a World

Aired November 7, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: celebration and commiseration as Republicans in the United States deal the Democrats

their worst defeat in 65 years.

I speak to the famed U.S. political satirist, Jon Stewart, about this election and the disputed 2009 election in Iran, where the fate of a

journalist jailed and tortured for reporting the truth is the focus of Stewart's first major motion picture, "Rosewater."


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": And not just Iran, you know it's -- Turkey has all these -- Al Jazeera reporters are being held in Egypt.

The United States has prisoners in solitary. We put pressure on journalists. We see that now.



AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.

Ever since President Hassan Rouhani came to power over a year ago, he has tried to move towards opening up Iran to the world and loosening up on

domestic repression. But Iran's human rights record remains a stain.

Jailed for attending a men's volleyball match, 21-year-old British Iranian Ghoncheh Ghavami, has now gone on a second hunger strike to protest

her one-year sentence.

Two weeks ago, 26-year-old Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged, convicted of killing a man that she had accused of raping her.

Iran has also detained at least 35 journalists, including Iranian American Jason Rezaian, who's been held without public charge since July.

But it was the fate of British Iranian journalist, Maziar Bahari, who brought this whole issue most to light back in 2009, when he was arrested,

jailed and tortured after being accused of spying during the disputed Iranian election of 2009 and it's this story which is the powerful subject

of the first film to be directed by the famous American news satirist, Jon Stewart, of "The Daily Show."

"Rosewater" opens next week.

So what made this purveyor of news comedy turn his hand to the plight of real news reporters?

I sat down with Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari to find out.


AMANPOUR: Jon Stewart, Maziar Bahari, welcome to the program.

STEWART: Thank you for having us.


AMANPOUR: Your film, amazing; it opens here next week.

So, Jon, why did you choose?

What was going on in your head, in your life, that you chose this particular subject as your first film?

STEWART: I had always wanted to be in the Directors' Guild. And so I was looking for anything. And the script happened to come across --


AMANPOUR: And this was just a crummy old script that came from --

STEWART: Could have been this, could have been --


STEWART: -- Martin Lawrence-Will Smith buddy comedy. It really didn't matter to me.



AMANPOUR: -- did you feel guilty?

Was that part of why you did it?

Because it was, after all, your show that landed my colleague, Maziar Bahari, in jail in Iran.

BAHARI: No, actually that's not true.


AMANPOUR: No, it's not true? OK.

STEWART: I wish our show had that power.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's play this bit. Let's play this bit and then we'll talk about it. This is the skit that you were asked to do with Jason

Jones at "The Daily Show."

STEWART: Correct.


JASON JONES, COMEDIAN (voice-over): We headed to a coffee shop off Azania Square for a clandestine meeting with Iranian journalist, Maziar

Bahari. I was told to go by the code name, "Pistachio," and I would recognize him by.

JONES: Oh, Maziar.

JONES (voice-over): The one thing I could understand was that this entire country is evil.

BAHARI: The first thing to know about Iran is that it's not evil.


AMANPOUR: So there's your Jason Jones, pretending to be a spy and accusing Iranians of being all evil.

And you're saying, no, they're not.

STEWART: Yes. If ever there was an offense to be arrested for, I'd say that's it.


STEWART: That's got to be it.

AMANPOUR: You then made that the sort of premise of your film, because let's play the other little piece from "Rosewater" now, which is

the interrogation of yourself because of this clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So can you tell me why just generally (INAUDIBLE) this American spy and the evil (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not a spy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's -- no, it's a show.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A comedy show. It's stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very stupid, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. He's a comedian, pretending to be a spy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So can you tell me why an American pretending to be a spy has chosen to interview you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And why would a real spy have a TV show?


AMANPOUR: So the whole spy CIA thing. I mean, we're laughing and grinning now, but that was serious.

STEWART: Well, they were following Maziar, though. They -- he was under surveillance.

BAHARI: They had the whole scenario and I have to repeat that over and over again, that "The Daily Show" did not have to do anything with my

arrest. But they wanted to implicate me. They had a scenario for me and they told me that I was a spy for the CIA, MI-6, Mossad and "Newsweek"


And in the absence of any evidence, because I was not a spy they brought ridiculous charges, including this "Daily Show" appearance.

AMANPOUR: And then, of course, you wrote the book, which you read and liked and decided to adapt this film.

STEWART: He and I had actually been -- we became friendly after he was released and sort of having breakfast and then I was going to try and

help him get the book produced.

BAHARI: I was writing the book --

STEWART: He was writing the book at that time and when I started seeing the sheets of it and the galleys, he has an incredibly -- incredible

ability to compartmentalize the pain of the experience to be able to maintain an ability to analyze it, to connect it to his family, his

culture, his past.

It was such a rich tapestry. The book is so compelling that I wanted to be a part of it.

AMANPOUR: You also focus very much on the absurdity of what happened in Iran to you and you watching it.

BAHARI: The absurdity comes from reality. While you have 66 journalists in prison in Iran right now, while they have arrested almost

300 journalists since 2009, more than 1,000 since the beginning of the revolution before Rouhani comes to your show saying that nobody's in prison

in Iran because of journalism.

That is ridiculous. That's funny. And that's -- all I did was I just transferred to ridiculous things in the book.

STEWART: And not just Iran, you know it's -- Turkey has all these -- you know, these Al Jazeera reporters are being held in Egypt. The United

States has prisoners in solitary. We put pressure on journalists. You see that now. It's -- this is a ubiquitous issue. We don't want it to be just

dismissed as the eccentricity of one authoritarian regime.

AMANPOUR: Your friend, Bassem Yousef, who often has been called the Jon Stewart of Egypt, is also under similar heavy pressure in Egypt and may

never be able to do his show there.

STEWART: Oh, I think they've driven him off the air and charged him with -- again, the absurdity of the crimes that Bassem was charged with --

he's a satirist who does shows. They've charged him with the defiling of the nation, the corroding of the sun. It's absurd and I think the most

incredible part about it is that it projects a weakness rather than a strength.

AMANPOUR: I want to play some video that we'll talk over. It's, again, from "Rosewater," the film, and it shows you saying goodbye to your

wife, Paola, who was pregnant with your first child.

What was it like for you and for her, when you were obviously completely bereft of any contact?

Did you even know that she knew what was happening to you when you were actually in jail?

BAHARI: No, I did not. I was in solitary confinement for 107 days and what happens in solitary confinement is that they deprive you of all

your senses. You cannot smell anything. You cannot touch anything. You cannot see anything really.

So you become isolated. You become delusional. You become suicidal and only when they told me that I was called Mr. Hillary Clinton, and I

knew that the secretary of state of the United States was talking about me that I knew something was going on and I put two and two together.

AMANPOUR: And you know now there's this big debate over whether families of those who are in prison should actually talk about it.

BAHARI: I think they always have to talk. I think no one has ever been released because the families have been silent and no one has ever

been harmed because their families have talked about that.

AMANPOUR: And Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays you, I mean, he's phenomenal. He's really great in this.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): What was it like to be played by him?

BAHARI (voice-over): I think he dances a little bit better than me, just a little bit, not that much.

But, no, he's an amazing actor.


BAHARI: And one of the things that we have witnessed since the film was shown in International (ph) Festival Toronto is that women identify

more with the film, even though the film is about two male characters. A lot of women, they like the --


AMANPOUR: I can see you smiling.

Was that your intention?

BAHARI: Maybe it's because of Gael, maybe. But also it's because of the presence of --


BAHARI: -- it's because of the presence of three amazing women in the film, my mother, my sister --


AMANPOUR: And played by amazing actresses --

BAHARI: -- amazing --

AMANPOUR: -- Iranian actresses actually, some of them.

What does this say to you or do you not have a message about American U.S. relations?

BAHARI: Iran-U.S. relations?

STEWART: Yes. America's on relatively good terms with the U.S.

AMANPOUR: Iran-U.S. relations?

STEWART: Well, I think in general, the general dialogue at this point is the United States refers to them as part of the axis of evil and they

refer to us as death to America. So right now the conversation is stilted.

AMANPOUR: Stilted, to say the least.

STEWART: But that's a caricature on both sides and it's one- dimensional and hopefully even though I'm not Iranian -- and if you are Iranian, if you come from there, the film will seem maybe simplistic or

reductive to the grand nuance of the culture and the country.

Hopefully for a Western audience, it's a more nuanced view than they've seen before. And hopefully it begins to stir the conversation of

two cultures filled with humans that --

AMANPOUR: Which actually goes full circle back to the original skit that maybe some people think why you're in trouble in the first place, you

were trying to show the absurdity of these preconceived notions.

Is this is a commercial film, do you think?

STEWART: Oh, gosh, I don't know. I mean, I don't know.

AMANPOUR: What do you want people to take away?

STEWART: A box of Raisinets and a big soda. I don't know.

What I would like them to take away is, oddly enough, optimism and a sense of -- that this is -- these types of oppressive regimes, this type of

authoritarian regime is unsustainable, as we learned that colonialism was unsustainable, that we learned that imperialism was unsustainable.

This idea that you can use treasure and human capital to build these apparatuses to suppress information is far more devastating to a country

than whatever piece of information is.

And I think it's the idea that Maziar, even under the type of duress that he was, was able to retain his humanity through his memories of his

family, of his culture, of remembering his own humanity is what sustained him.

And that, I think, is why they are defeatable. They're not monsters and I think it's important to remember that.

BAHARI: And humor is very symbolic of Iranian culture because Iran has been invaded and raped and pillaged by many different powers, from

Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan to the Allied forces, the British, the Russians, Saddam Hussein.

But they have retained their humanity through sense of humor. You know that. You know Iranians are very funny. They make jokes about

everything. They tolerate these really horrible tragedies through their sense of humor. And I think that's shown in the film as well.

AMANPOUR: Do you think you'll be able to go back?

BAHARI: I can always go back. But it's difficult to come out because I have a 16.5-year sentence. I have a 16.5-year sentence in absentia plus

74 lashes.

And you were talking about ridiculous sentences and ridiculous behavior of the Iranian government, I was sentenced to 74 lashes because

someone tagged a picture of Ahmadinejad kissing a boy, former President Ahmadinejad kissing a boy, on my Facebook page.

And they said that through this photo you are saying that Ahmadinejad is a homosexual. And because of that, you have to suffer 74 lashes. It is

ridiculous. It's laughable. But unfortunately, these people are in power.

AMANPOUR: I think you end the film with a sort of a defiance. You have a child who's taking pictures in the end.

Tell me about the end of the film and what that message was.

STEWART: I think in -- through the joke structure -- and in some ways it's the punchline, which is so -- in order to keep an actual journalist

from filming something that really happened and just broadcasting it, they have built this incredible bureaucracy to incarcerate people, to torture

them, to confess on television, to dissuade those that won't.

It is expensive. It comes at the cost of the, I think, humanity of those that have to execute the torture. And at the very end, a 9-year-old

boy goes, oh, well, then I'll do it.

And it just -- I thought that it was a wonderful way to undercut the idea that these regimes will ever be able to accomplish their goal in the

manner that they wish to.


AMANPOUR: So from the deadly serious issues that make up this remarkable film, "Rosewater," when we return, I will ask Jon Stewart about

his future and how he's derived fame and incredible influence by leaving no ego unpunctured.

Here he is, going after CNN's own coverage of the town hall interview I conducted with Hillary Clinton this past summer.


STEWART: Well, let's hope CNN doesn't make the same mistake by over- hyping their exclusive.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We wanted to give you a look behind the scenes as we get ready for this event.

We're putting finishing touches here on the set. Christiane Amanpour will be sitting right here. Hillary Clinton, she will be sitting right

here. This is the hot seat.

STEWART: Honey, get in here. Honey, honey, get in here. They're introducing the chairs.


STEWART: Honey, you getting this?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Jon Stewart sets his sights on me when we come back.





AMANPOUR: Welcome back.

STEWART: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: You've been doing this job at "The Daily Show" for 16 years.

STEWART: Sixteen years.


STEWART: Sixteen, 17.

AMANPOUR: Sixteen, 17 years.

You've now done your first movie.

Is this what everybody wants to know, a transition out of being "The Daily Show" host -- we understand your contract is up and you're casting

around, looking around.

STEWART: Let me ask you, what have you heard?

AMANPOUR: (INAUDIBLE) what I've heard.

STEWART: Now you have to tell me what's going to happen in my life.

AMANPOUR: All right.

STEWART: I'm very excited --


AMANPOUR: I think you're going to be a film director.

STEWART: All right.

AMANPOUR: Are you? Another one?

STEWART: Those are -- I don't view them as separate entities. I view it all as a process. In my mind, this is all chicken. I'm just making

chicken. Sometimes I make cutlets, sometimes I make a nice teriyaki, sometimes I just grind it up and feed it to baby birds. But it's still



AMANPOUR: And do you think this chicken might decide to be a regular news anchor?

I mean a lot of --

STEWART: Regular news?

AMANPOUR: Yes, regular news.

STEWART: Like yourself? Like a real journalist?

AMANPOUR: Like myself.

STEWART: I would say no. I would say --

AMANPOUR: Like on "Meet the Press."

STEWART: No. I would say no. That I don't believe is in danger of happening, yes. That I can pretty confidently state that I will not have

my own room of situations. That's just a name I came up with, a room of situations.

AMANPOUR: Yet another Pew poll has again cemented CNN as the most trusted name in news. Now of course that makes me very proud; 54 percent

say that. You have made a career beating up on CNN and other cable shows and --

STEWART: Fifty-four percent said you were trustworthy?

AMANPOUR: Not me, CNN. And me maybe, but CNN, yes.

STEWART: That it was trustworthy?

AMANPOUR: Sixteen percent said you were, or your show was.

STEWART: Well, that sounds about right.

AMANPOUR: The most trusted name in news and information.

STEWART: Oh, right, OK.

AMANPOUR: So similar.

STEWART: So best fast food restaurant?

AMANPOUR: In the spirit of --


AMANPOUR: -- I am going to play --

STEWART: You know, Wendy's is seen as food by over 54 percent of people who eat there.

AMANPOUR: In the spirit of --


STEWART: -- whereas Arby's --

AMANPOUR: -- in the spirit of this debate, I'm going to play a part of your show where I was in the mocking crosshairs. Here we go.

STEWART: All right.


STEWART: Of course, CNN wasn't satisfied with their exclusive Hillary Clinton town hall. They held an exclusive after-town hall retrospective

tribute to their previous town hall.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: What do you think? Did she do a good job or didn't she do a good job?

What do you think, good job?



STEWART: I love that. I love that bit.

AMANPOUR: That was (INAUDIBLE) that was screaming.

STEWART: Because it was crazy. It was like you guys had just done "Our Town." Like everybody was coming out.

AMANPOUR: So now let me ask you, do you do this because you think we could be so much more?

Or do you think it's just hopeless altogether?

STEWART: No. I never think things are hopeless. You don't, either.

AMANPOUR: No, I don't.

STEWART: You don't -- you didn't like that. Look at your face when you walked out there. You walk out there like this.

Really? So you're going to -- so it's last call? You're going to turn the lights on, now we're going to walk out here and be like, yes. I

made your drinks.

AMANPOUR: Let's talk about another situation which is close to your heart, fallen and wounded heroes, and I know that every year, and I go

every year to support our colleague, Bob Woodruff Foundation, the Stand Up for Heroes.

Tell me what it is -- it's -- yes, it's Wednesday night and it's an amazing, amazing event.

What is it that made you decide that was one of those charities that you will support?

STEWART: I think early on when we invaded Iraq, I always consider that sort of the original sin of the 21st century. I was highly critical

of the decision but also felt incredibly removed from the individuals that were participating in it and the reality of it. I didn't feel like I knew


And so I began to visit with people and have those discussions. And what I think amazed me more than anything -- and unfortunately, cemented

the anger that I had at the missteps -- was the value of the human capital of the men and women that were serving over there.

And I always used to -- and you would leave and they would say, thank you so much for coming.

And I'd think like, yes, I'm the real hero here.

You know, you always felt like -- you walked out of there, having been given so much more than any of your time would have been worth.

And so through that process, I began to see just how their integrity and sacrifice was in the shadows and that, when they were useful to the

purpose, they were held aloft.

But when you're five years out and you've got PTSD and you're living 50 miles away from a V.A. and you need a new -- you know, you're on your

own. And that injustice truly upset me.

AMANPOUR: And the injustice of such a small minority of people fighting for all of us.

Do you think there should be a draft?

Do you think there should be some kind of national service?

STEWART: Absolutely. And I don't understand it. I don't understand the difference between the rhetoric and the reality. You can't come on

television and say we as a nation face an existential threat so -- anyway, back to "The Good Wife." We'll get on it. We'll be dealing with it in the

back there. You guys go ahead.

It's unacceptable. And I don't think it should be compulsory military. I think it just has to be service.

It does a lot of things. It invests younger people in the country but it also, in the way that we all live in our own intellectual and opinion

bubbles, it forces Americans together again in the way that, in World War II, the draft integrated America.

Without that, we don't have a more integrated society. It forces people to live amongst each other and to realize the more shared nature of

our cause than the differences.

AMANPOUR: Really, really serious and heavy things and thank you very much indeed for joining me.

And will we see you as host of "The Daily Show" through the next presidential election?

STEWART: That I don't know. That I can't tell you.

AMANPOUR: All right.

STEWART: I do not know.

AMANPOUR: Watch this space.

STEWART: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you. Thank you very much.

STEWART: Nice to see you.

AMANPOUR: Nice to see you and good luck with the film.

STEWART: And it's quite good.

AMANPOUR: It's quite good.

STEWART: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So Jon Stewart approaching even the darkest of topics with his inimitable optimism and humor.

Now imagine a world where that dry sense of humor put the heat on him -- when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world that can't take a joke. Well, we may be living in it. Of course, the Democrats aren't

laughing today after taking such a serious beating at the polls. And perhaps that and the relatively low turnout makes the whole idea of voting

sensitive to some right now.

Anyway, shortly after interviewing Jon Stewart for this program, he was on air with his own "Daily Show" over at Comedy Central and this is how

he started out.


STEWART: But I wanted to address something first. Something happened; I was over at CNN today. I said something on the air and it

created a bit of a story. I wanted to get to it. I was on Christiane Amanpour's show on CNN. And I said this.


AMANPOUR: Did you vote?



STEWART: No, I just moved. I don't even know where my thing is now.



STEWART: Let me explain something. I -- first of all, I've known where my thing is since I was 13.

But to set the record right, I did vote today. I didn't know where my booth was. I was being flip and it kind of took off and I -- you know

what, I want to apologize because I shouldn't have been flip about that, because I think I wasn't clear enough that I was kidding and it sent a

message that I didn't think voting was important or that I didn't think it was a big issue.

And I do. And I did vote and I was being flip. And I shouldn't have done that. That was stupid. So I apologize and -- yes.


STEWART: Anyway.


AMANPOUR: Which just goes to show, in this modern world of instant sound bites and political drubbing, sometimes the hardest job is to raise a


Now as we said, Jon's deeply affecting film, "Rosewater," is about the jailed Iranian journalist. Now tomorrow on this program, we explore the

fate of American journalist James Risen, who may be sent to jail by the Obama administration for refusing to divulge his sources on a sensitive


That's it for us tonight right now. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.