Outrage caused by the arrest of several Iranian directors by the authorities

Reports circulated last week that the Iranian government had arrested Iranian filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad.

Directors were detained for posting statements on social media condemning government-sanctioned violence in response to protests in May in the southwestern city of Abadan.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported that they were detained for urging Iranian security forces not to crack down on protesters or use firearms against them during a wave of protests across Iran.

The protests began after a 10-story building collapsed in Abadan, killing at least 41 people and leaving many more missing. The directors used the protest hashtag #put_your_gun_down.

Third arrest and international protest

Iranian producer, cultural advocate and frequent collaborator of Mohammad Rasoulof Kaveh Farnam told Euronews that Rasoulof is being held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison.

“We received news from IRNA, Iran’s state news agency, on Friday, July 8,” he said.

“I talked to him [Mohammad Rasoulof] about an hour before. Through the news, we learned of other arrests of other colleagues, including Mostafa Al-Ahmad.”

A few days after the arrest of both directors, the well-known Iranian film director Jafar Panahi was detained, who was trying to make inquiries with the prosecutor’s office about his film colleagues.

More than 300 figures in the country’s film industry have signed a statement demanding their release.

The news of the arrests also resonated with the film community, with several international film festivals, including those in Cannes, Venice and Locarno, releasing official statements condemning the arrests.

The Berlin Film Festival said it was “outraged by the news of the arrest”. Panahi and Rasoulof won the coveted Golden Bear respectively in 2015 for Taxi and 2020 for No Evil.

Festival directors Mariette Riesenbeck and Carlo Chatrian added that the arrest is “another violation of freedom of expression and freedom of art.”

Kaveh Farnam also told Euronews that the international film community’s expression of solidarity is the first step towards constructive and meaningful action.

“The first step is to achieve international awareness, because in our experience, every time we keep silent about something, they [the Iranian governement] can do whatever they want in the dark. (…) Fortunately, many film festivals and many film magazines support the freedom of these three good, smart and talented directors. The next step is to try to translate this awareness into a kind of pressure to ask governments and various communities with any political or human rights power to demand the release of the filmmakers. And it’s not just about the filmmakers – there has been a big wave of civilian arrests in Iran lately and there must be a reason for this and they [the organizations] can put pressure on Iran to release them all.”

This is not the first time Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof have clashed with Iranian authorities.

Panahi was arrested in March 2010 and charged with propaganda against the regime, and both he and Rasoulof continued to make films using covert resources despite bans that said they were not allowed to continue their work.

Reports during the 2020 pre-Berlinal said that Mohammad Rasoulof’s film There is no evil had to be smuggled in to be shown at the festival using a USB stick. The film consists of four interconnected stories centered on the death penalty, the suppression of personal freedom in Iran, and the effects of violence on the human soul.

His daughter, Baran Rasoulof, was on hand to collect the Golden Bear prize on his behalf, given that the Iranian authorities would not allow her father to attend the festival.

A recent film by Jafar Panahi, no bearsis expected to hit festivals this fall after the director won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes in 2018 for 3 persons. The exposure on major film platforms will continue to expose attacks on freedom of expression and shed light on the plight of filmmakers currently in custody.