Three Iranian filmmakers – Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof, and Mostafa Aleahmad – have been detained by the Iran government as part of its most recent crackdown on dissidents.
The recent arrests and wider pressures on filmmakers follow a wave of a number of detentions of filmmakers as a consequence of rising tensions between Iran’s hard-line government and the West.
Why is Iran arresting filmmakers?
In order to suppress dissent, growing anti-establishment sentiment, and near-daily protests across the Islamic country, the Iranian government has intensified its campaign against the country’s renowned film industry.
Protests broke against allegations of government negligence and systemic corruption, following the tragic collapse of the Metropol Building in May, which resulted in at least 41 fatalities.
The protesters had called for the prosecution and punishment of the “incompetent officials” accountable for the tragedy. Many had to deal with police arrests, warning bullets, and tear gas while protesting.
According to an Iranian news source. filmmaker Rasoulof and Al-e Ahmad were charged with “inciting unrest and disrupting the psychological security of society” by exploiting the “tragic incident in Abadan’s Metropol.”
According to reports, the two directors were among the 70 individuals in the film industry who signed a petition urging security personnel to “lay down their arms” in the wake of outrage over the negligence of the government that caused the Abadan house collapse.
One of the signatories, Panahi, who also shared the appeal on Instagram, was later detained when he visited the Tehran prosecutor’s office to inquire about Rasaulof’s case.
In a social media post, Panahi asserted that the accusations against the two filmmakers of being associated with “counter-revolutionary forces” were brought against them to ensure that they would serve a longer sentence for espionage on behalf of foreign governments.
According to reports, President Ebrahim Raisi’s hardline regime is also dealing with public outrage over rising food prices. Indirect US-Iran negotiations to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement and ease sanctions have also come to a standstill, and the nation is now sliding deeper into an economic crisis.
Iran’s problem with its filmmakers
Rasoulof and Aleahmad were reportedly among the group of Iranian filmmakers and movie industry workers, who issued an open letter and posted social media posts urging their nation’s security forces to put down their firearms.
The hashtag #put your gun down was used by the filmmakers in response to the harsh crackdown on protestors by the government that followed the building fall, — the deadliest incident of its sort in Iran in years.
The Arab Weekly reports that the government’s campaign against the film industry started in May when it conducted raids on the homes and offices of several filmmakers and other industry personnel, arresting a few of them.
After that, in May, Rasoulof posted a statement on his Instagram account condemning the actions and labelling them as “illegal.”
Rasoulof identified Firouzeh Khosravani and Mina Keshavarz as two of the imprisoned filmmakers in another Instagram post.
For his film “There Is No Evil,” which explores four stories tangentially related to the subjects of the death sentence in Iran and individual liberties under dictatorship, Rasoulof won the top award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2020.
He was sentenced to a year in prison soon after winning the awards for three movies he produced that the authorities deemed to be “propaganda against the system,” reported The Arab Weekly.
In 2011, Rasoulof’s movie “Goodbye” won an award in Cannes, but he was barred from travelling to France to accept it.
In 2011, Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison and given a 20-year ban on making films after being found guilty of creating anti-government propaganda movies. He was also prohibited from leaving the nation.
The sentence, however, was never really enforced, and Panahi continued to produce indie films that were widely acclaimed when they were shown overseas without taking government permission or permits for the scripts.
In a statement, Cannes strongly condemned the arrest of the three Iranian directors. “The Festival de Cannes strongly condemns these arrests as well as the wave of repression obviously in progress in Iran against its artists. The Festival calls for the immediate release of Mohammad Rasoulof, Mostafa Aleahmad, and Jafar Panahi,” the statement read.
The Berlin International Film Festival expressed its “dismay and outrage” at hearing of Panahi’s arrest. The festival’s directors released a statement saying that Jafar Panahi’s detention “is yet another infringement on the right to free speech and the freedom of the arts.”
Rasoulof’s detention has already drawn criticism from Berlinale. The festival’s directors, Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian issued a statement in which they expressed their “deep concern” over the arrests of Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad. ” It is disturbing that artists are detained for their peaceful endeavor against violence. We demand that the two directors be released by the Iranian government,” they said in a statement.
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