Monday, June 13, 2005

Sean Penn Covers Hashemi Rafsanjani

Actor Sean Penn, warming to his occasional role as a reporter, has quizzed the top contender in Iran's presidential elections about democracy and had a brush with security agents at an illegal women's protest. READ MORE

Penn, 44, on assignment for the San Franciso Chronicle ahead of presidential elections on Friday, had already caused a stir by turning up to listen to worshippers chant "Death to America" at Friday prayers in Tehran last week.

On Sunday he tackled Shi'ite Muslim cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who leads opinion polls, about U.S. criticism of the election after hundreds of hopefuls were barred from running by a panel of religious hardliners.

Rafsanjani, 70, a wily pragmatist who favours better ties with the United States, pointed out that Iran was fielding eight candidates for president -- a larger choice than American voters had at their polls in November.

"If the number of candidates is a proof of democracy, we are ... better than the Americans in this regard," newspapers quoted Rafsanjani as telling Penn.

Later on Sunday, security men briefly confiscated Penn's camera as he tried to observe a protest rally about gender inequalities in the Islamic state by some 300 women.

Authorities had sought to ban the protest and scores of police formed a tight ring around the demonstrators.

The actor, who visited Iraq before and after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and wrote an account of his second trip for the Chronicle, says he decided to come to Iran because of growing tensions between Washington and Tehran.

The United States accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism. Iran denies the charges.