tv Amanpour on PBS PBS March 19, 2018 6:00am-6:30am PDT
welcome to amanpour on pbs. tonight, a suspicious death in an iranian prison. authorities call it suicide, but the family of a prominent environmentalist demands an investigation. >> i want people to close their eyes and realize what it's like to lose their father or their husband. they're not even able to grieve in peace. >> why we should care. plus, can israelis and egyptians make beautiful music together? a smash new musical brings harmony to the middle east and i talk to the rising broadway star composer david yazbeck.
welcome to the program, i'm cristian amanpour in new york. the iran nuclear deal faces a perilous future. president trump could put the united states out mid-may when another deadline looms, inside iran, this uncertainty is playing into a bitter struggle between the moderate government of hassan rouhani against the hard line revolutionary guards. caught in the middle are the emami family. iranian authorities clay that kavous seyed emami committed
suicide a confessing to spying but emami's family disputes this and is calling for a transparent investigation. after his death, his widows were barred from leaving at the last moment with her sons. this week, the two brothers did come here and join me in the studio to talk about fighting to bring their mother home, struggling to cope with the death of their father and struggling to get the truth about what really happened to him. gentlemen, welcome to the program. firstly, our condolences for the death of your father. it's so sad. how are you coping several weeks on? >> right now we're trying to just get our mother back. after everything we've been through this nightmarish several wee weeks, the fact they barred our mother from leaving the country to come with us to vancouver canada was the final nail in the
coff coffin. >> can i start with your mother, the immediate case and we'll go into what happened to your father. what happened? you were trying to leave iran after the death of your father and at the lastinute they wouldn't allow your mother on board the flight. >> we decided that we have the opportunity to be able to grieve in peace and we wanted to leave the country to feel more relaxed and leave the tension surrounding us. the last second before we were about to board the plane someone came up and call mid-mother's name and we knew something was wrong we were shocked and they told us to decide whether to leave the country without your mom or all of you to stay and my mother told us please, please just leave, i'll be okay and i just want you to be safe.
it was a difficult decision but we thought it was the right one. >> we were just joking around about it seemed like the ending to "argo" as if we were trying to get out of the plane and rush out of the country. we didn't think it would end up that way at all. >> why do you think your mother was so insistent? >> she wanted us to be safe. we were being threatened, harass and bother ed. the house was probably bugged, we were getting threaten bid dangerous people telling me they were watching me. my brother and i are not afraid of anything. we were willing to speak up because that's what we felt kept us safe and security and we know
our father was innocent and taken away for no reason. we weren't even told what he was accused of until his suspicious dea death. >> it's just awful the way your mother found out what happened to your father. describe that -- >> you know the -- >> do you want to take it, mehran. >> no, i can do it. they called her and told her they had good news for her and she was finally hoping she was going to see her husband and they interrogate her and grill her for four hours and grill her with ludicrous questions and accusations threatening her and telling her we'll put you many the same place your husband is and finally they tell h --
after they can't get anything t o h because she doesn't know anything, she's just a housewife who was happily married and had a wonderful family, "now you can see your husband, you can see his body." and what kind of cruel inhumane person would do such a thing to a mother, to a wife, you know? to -- couldn't you put yourself in the position of that woman? why would you instill such horrible feelings upon someone? >> so here comes the hard bit, even harder than what you're describing now they said your father, an environmentalist, and we'll get into that in a second, committed suicide in prison. you don't believe that. why not? >> for someone who loved life, who loved his family, who just a few weeks prior to that was hiking in the mountains with his
dogs and had such a hopeful and optimistic view of life, for someone to take his own life is completely absurd and non-believable to us. we don't know under what conditions he was held or what led to his death. these are questions that are difficult to answer. >> he was the leader of the most important, the best known, the most transparent iranian wildlife in nature ngo. you have no reason to think anything he did was suspicious. they showed you surveillance video that was supposed to proof he committed suicide. what was on the video? >> i was the only one -- only member of the family along with our two lawyers who saw the video. i didn't want anybody else to watch it.
god nose what kind of psychological torture he underwent to be in that state of mind from being this completely kind passionate loving person to this very lost person in this cell. it shows the room and there's a -- what they say is a toilet beside the room, the cell and the most suspicious thing about this whole situation is that my dad is pacing around the room, he takes off his shirt and he's thinking and he just doesn't feel good and once he goes into the room, eight hours later they want to give him breakfast and they see he's not there and they bring his body out of the bathroom. and that's like the first suspicious part of this whole event. because if he was such a high profile prisoner. i know firsthand one of my friend's father was in prison he tried to commit suicide twice
and in a matter of seconds they stopped him. other people's stories, if you tack talk to people who had been prisoners they say it's impossibl impossible. >> the video shows he took his shirt off and put it around his neck and walked into this partition area that was the toilet area. >> yes. >> do you have any fears that that shirt was -- i mean that he was thinking of doing that? can you rule out suicide? >> impossible to know for sure. but based on what we knew, it's easy to speculate, it's easy to come up with different theories, but based on the man we knew, the father we knew, the person he was and the impact he left on
so many -- several generations of students of people who loved nature, who loved the wildlife, environmentalists, this is not the impression he gave to a single person in his lifetime. >> they have got some line that environmentalists and scientists are somehow wrapped up in spying and your father had set up a series of trap cameras that one sees on wildlife videos to investigate a rare species. the asiatic cheetah. >> they say you're afraid of what you don't understand and these camera traps are one of these cases. that res cameras up to 50 meter s. these cameras are very cheap, not that valuable, not very high in technology. they said that they used these to record military activities. >> were they anywhere close to military activities? >> it's impossible to fathom
with google satellite or with any kind of technology such activity. so the fact they make such absurd and ridiculous claims means they don't have anything, you know? >> it's so absurd the claims and they've been -- they say our dad was responsible for the drought. everyday the accusations become biggers. >> you are canadians and chrystia freeland said she was outraged your mother was not allowed to leave iran and she called her in a show of support and amnesty international called for an independent commission. but canada has no direct diplomatic representation in iran. turkey represents canada's interests. what do you expect and who do you think can help you? >> our expectation is for canadian government and the
prime minister mr. trudeau to speak up to make this request formally and officially not only from canada but to have international pressure on iran to raise transparency toward this case and to ensure that my mom will be home safely and for this case to open up. >> what do you hope coming here and telling your story will achieve? >> our goal is seek the truth, to raise awareness towards the issue. unfortunately we've never heard good stories come out of staying silent and therefore we're not afraid, we chose to speak up and we want the truth about this man to be revealed. i want people at home to close their eyes and realize what it's like to lose their father, for someone to lose their husband
and to go through this surreal chaotic experience. they're not even able to grieve in peace where their family is separated from each other. i want people to realize what it's like to go through this. we've tried hard not to be angry, not to make rash decisions. we only seek transparency, truth and to share our father's legacy with the world. >> mehran andra mean seyed-emami, thank you for joining us. >> thank you. >> now we turn a differentony p broadway in a smash hit musical that shows what that region could be. it is called the band's visit and here's how one character tells the story. once, not long ago, a group of musicians came to israel from egypt. you probably didn't hear about
it, it wasn't very important. it's a small story that is important because it offers great hope. it shows us there was a time in the bygone days of peace treaties and political connections when israelis and arabs could actually come together and make beautiful music ♪ right here beside me, kind of deep and kind of ♪ ♪ human it's sergeant pepper's, is this my omar sharif ♪ ♪ well, i know it's shing different ♪ >> david yazbek is the composer and lyricist, the man behind that song, and i sat down with him here earlier this week. david yazbek, welcome to the program. >> thank you. >> so this is an amazing musical, packed houses every
night and awards season is coming up, fingers crossed. >> that's bad luck to yosz your fingers. >> what happens when a producer calls you up and says david, shall we do about a broadway musical about a fly blown nowhere town in israel based on an art house israeli movie. >> when any producer calls me up and asks me to do anything my first answer is no. >> i thought you were going to say yes. >> i go charging away and then i will call back and say give me a few weeks, let me think about it. let me see it. and with this one, seeing the movie was enough to make me turn around and say yes. >> well, before we get to the nitty-gritty of the story and all that inspired you, i want to play for you the legendary andrew lloyd webber who has got four broadway musicals on, the first time since rogers and hammerstein and this is what he said about story telling making good musicals. >> we not only have "hamilton" which sounds like an unlikely
idea. the idea of an american founding father and hip-hop doesn't sound immediately like the greatest idea for a musical, whiches why it's a good one. even worse, the idea of an egyptian military band turning up in tel aviv. >> "the band's visit." >> great idea, fantastic music. when the band plays you get up on your feet and say this is what musicals are all about. >> that's a great endorsement and you feel that way when you go to watch it, that last moment where the band plays for the first time. you keep it to the very end. why? >> well, i mean, these are -- these people you've seen on stage acting and moving around, they are world class musicians so when they play it's the deepest expression of connectivity which is what the show is about. and joy. and it's very cathartic. and when andrew lloyd webber raises both hands -- >> the sweet spot. >> the sweet spot. >> so it's about the alexandria
orchestra, the police orchestra, right? the band coming to this nowhere town in israel and it's a mistake that leads to an extraordinary encounter. and i think we have a little bit of a -- yeah, the characters describe the town in this song "welcome to nowhere." let's play it. ♪ looking at the map of the desert ♪ ♪ go through the middle of the desert ♪ ♪ put a man on a spot in the desert, welcome to know where ♪ ♪ behold where there was once only desert. >> it's a town where the film was shot and it's a nowhere town but even people in a no where
are town are people and it's endlessly fascinating. >> it's a quiet political story. you're not facing politics head on by any stretch of the imagination but nowhere in the audience can avoid the fact that this is about the most contested part of the world today. >> if we had concluded a scene talking about someone's traumatic experience during a war, that would have lessened the impact of not speaking about the politics. there's a scene in the movie where one of the egyptians are dressed in these powder blue uniforms. he's sitting in a restaurant and there's a picture of an israeli tank. he hangs it up over the picture and that's him saying we're people and, you know, there's an elemental thing about they're lost, they need food and a place too sleep and other people give them. >> and you hang this whole notion and this whole play on the idea of boredom.
there's no effort to sex up the city, so to speak. >> there's always that first impulse to sex it up for broadway and almost immediately all of us, david chrome kroemer orrin wolf, an amazing producer and we said we're not going to do that. if we don't that, it won't have the emotional impact and we made the right move. >> how much of you is in this play, this musical compared to the other works you've done. >> i'm glad you asked that. this is really me. i've made albums, i've made five albums and when i make them i feel like that's a personal expression, i say what i want to say. when this came along i wasn't sure this would happen but it did. i was able to say what i wanted to say in every song. this feels like one of my albums to me. an album i made with the best musicians i could find.
>> your mother is jewish and your father is lebanese catholic. >> this was my first visit to my father visiting his father. we were on our way to the mountain where my grandfather was in this cab and there was a very exotic -- i don't like using that word -- pungent new flavor of music coming from the radio in the cab and i asked my father to ask the cab driver what it was, the scales and the rhythms and the orchestra sound but mostly this voice, this female voice and he asked and it was un kultum. i didn't know who that was but it really stuck, that song struck, her voice stuck. she was bigger than sinatra if you looked at the whole world and really that was the first trip for me that inserted that kind of music.
>> and you were seven at the time? >> yes. and i was listening to everything. >> i want to play the dong deena is singing about. ♪ came floating on the lamp ♪ flying in on a jasmine wind um kharto khartoum ♪ ♪ and we dance with them in um khartoum ♪ ♪ and omar sharif >> well, for people of a certain generation, we will remember omar sharif, the great egyptian actor, dr. zhivago and everything and -- >> lawrence of arabia.
>> not to mention and the great singer and it's interesting to -- that you show the story of the other, that each side is able to somehow connect. >> the pull is always there. the stuff gets in the way, the stuff that has to do with money and power. i was just in tel aviv. when you go to egypt or to israel -- israel's -- the food in israel has become great and mostly because they love the food from all around them. the music, the art, the food, that's a connecting point. that's possibly the most important connecting point and that's why when i know we or any administration cuts funding for the arts they're really cutting just yet another one of those connections. >> talk about that a little before we go on regarding your play. the arts are being given short shrift around the world.
in your perspective what is an adolescence without the arts? >> it's a one-way ticket to trumpsville, that's how it feels to me and when i say that i mean there's this move towards authoritarianism everywhere that you're talking about and you -- if you are invested in the arts you almost can't really go there. when we play music -- and i say we because i get to play with them sometimes, not on stage but it's this very deep connection. i have a band that i've been playing with them for 20, 25 years, we love each other the way a family does, especially while we're connecting through music and i think the band's visit is really about that and i think it comes pouring off the stage. >> i was going to say do you think -- do you feel every night, every matinee the audience gets that thing you're saying? what resonates most with the audience, that i leap up at the
very end. >> yeah, i was going to make a joke and say every night, yes. every matinee, not sure. >> i was in a matinee. >> i think the audience -- when you're doing a show, if everyone is on a more superficial level having a great time making each other laugh backstage and on stage, that floods out, the show doesn't have to be that great but the audience, just like when someone laughs, it's infectious. they feel it. when you're making music together a lot of it is being improvised, you are connecting very deeply and i'm sure if you did some kind of a test of brain waves or something, you would see the entire audience get on the same track. >> david yazbek, thank you so much. >> thank you. now "the band's visit" gives part of that view that i've seen as a correspondent in the middle east and other conflict zones, sometimes there's war, sometimes
a little bit of hope even in the worst times which brings me to personal news. after reporting on crises all around the world, i'm about to take a new and unexpected journey, exploring the love lives of strangers for my new six-part series "sex and love around the world." we begin in toke you, japan. women are no longer willing to take the place society has imposed on them. they don't all want to be the perfect daughter who grows up to be the perfect housewife and a massive shift is under way. oh, good, we're going to get drinks now, we can loosen up a little bit. >> yes! >> i've come to meet a group of friends at their regular hangout where they gather to dish on their lives and their love. ladies, let's talk about sex. how is sex? do you think men here, the
people who you're dating and your husband and your partners, do they care about your happiness? about your emotional and physical satisfaction? >> you can watch the series premier of "sex and love around the world" saturday at 10:00 p.m. eastern time on cnn and i hope you find it eye opening, the stories of this vital part of the human condition. that's it for our program tonight. join us again next time and thanks for watching amanpour on pbs.
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