RFL/RE – Iranian security officials have stepped up their pressure on filmmakers who signed a recent statement against state repression to force them to rescind their signatures.
In case of refusal, the filmmakers have been warned they could be blacklisted and banned from making films in the Islamic republic. A blacklist is due to be released next week, officials have said.
Sources told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that authorities recently summoned a “significant number” of filmmakers and artists who signed a May 29 statement calling on security forces to lay down their arms, telling them to remove their signatures from the document.
Among those contacted is a Tehran-based documentary producer who said authorities told him to state publicly that he had signed the open letter without being aware of its content.
The producer — who did not want to be named — said he refused to obey, telling officials he had read the text of the open letter before signing it. He told Radio Farda he now expects some type of retaliation, including a travel ban.
The statement signed by some 170 prominent filmmakers, artists, and actors was published on May 29 amid protests over the deadly collapse of a tower building in Abadan. It angered authorities who quickly threatened the signatories, forcing many of them to rescind their signatures.
The open letter called “on all those who have become agents of repression in the military units to lay down their arms and return to the nation’s embrace.” It added that “public outrage over corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression” had prompted the “wave of popular protests.”
In July, authorities arrested the leading voices behind the letter, award-winning filmmaker Mohammad Rasulof and fellow signatory and filmmaker Mostafa al-Ahmad.
Two days later, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Jafar Panahi was arrested, with authorities saying he has to serve a six-year prison sentence issued against him in 2010 due to his support for the Green opposition movement. Al-Ahmad was later released on bail while Rasulof and Panahi remain in prison.
Mohammad Khazaei, head of the Cinema Organization of Iran — which is affiliated with the Culture Ministry — said on August 16 that authorities had called “on those who didn’t have any information about the statement to announce it officially to avoid problems.”
Khazaei added that a list of filmmakers who will be banned will soon be released.
“There is a list, and some [of the names] have been added and removed in many meetings, and it has been decided the final list will be issued next week,” Khazaei said without offering details about those involved in blacklisting filmmakers.
He said he worked to remove some of the filmmakers from the list, adding that “in total, the name of six filmmakers had been announced but their number has been reduced.”
Khazaei added that the signatories of the May statement and others linked to “issues” at the Cannes Film Festival had faced “problems.”
Hayedeh Safiyari, the Iran-based editor of the film Holy Spider by Iranian-Danish director Ali Abbasi, is reportedly among those who have come under pressure. Khazaei said her fate will become clear next week with the release of the blacklist.
Tehran had protested over the screening of Holy Spider at the Cannes Film Festival, claiming it insulted the religious beliefs of Muslims and that it aimed “to show a dark picture of Iranian society.”
The film was inspired by the true story of an Iranian construction worker who killed 16 sex workers in the 2000s in the Iranian city of Mashhad, home to a revered Shi’ite shrine. Iran’s Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who lives in exile in France, won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her role as a journalist investigating the murders.
In June, Iranian Culture Minister Mehdi Esmaili warned that those who had worked on Holy Spider would be “punished.”
“If people inside the country have collaborated with this film they will be punished,” he said, without providing any legal basis for the decision.
The pressure on filmmakers comes amid a renewed crackdown on dissent in Iran. Several journalists, activists, and lawyers were summoned or arrested by authorities in recent weeks.
Authorities have also increased their crackdown against women who have pushed back on the compulsory hijab rules while also announcing new restrictions on women’s dress at universities and government offices.
Authorities have also ramped up their persecution of members of the Baha’i Faith, arresting about a dozen people and confiscating lands in the northern province of Mazandaran.
- Mohammad ZarghamiMohammad Zarghami is a senior journalist and anchor at RFE/RL’s Radio Farda who reported from Tehran before moving to Prague. He focuses on Iran’s politics and social issues. Zarghami has conducted dozens of interviews with prominent Iranian and international public figures. SUBSCRIBE VIA RSS
- Reza ShokrollahiBefore joining RFE/RL’s Radio Farda in 2019, Reza Shokrollahi was an editor, writer, and journalist in the fields of literature and culture for more than 20 years.