International film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival, as well as two prominent Iranian directors, have condemned the prison sentence issued in Tehran against acclaimed filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof.
“Today, we wish to reiterate our deep commitment to freedom of expression and our immense respect for Mohammad Rasoulof, to whom we offer our fullest support,” said an unsigned statement published on the Cannes’ website on July 25, 2019. “We ask for the immediate and unconditional release of Mohammad Rasoulof and call on festivals around the world, cinemas and all artists to do the same.”
On July 21, Rasoulof told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that he had been sentenced to one year in prison and banned from “membership in political and social parties and organizations” for two years under the charge of “propaganda against the state.” He is currently free on bail and will be appealing the sentence.
“By throwing him in jail or putting obstacles in front of his efforts to make movies, the state cannot put chains on Mohammad Rasoulof’s thoughts,” said prominent Iranian director Jafar Panahi on July 26 via his Instagram account. “He is the type of filmmaker who will leave prison with new stories to tell.”
(Find CHRI’s full translation of Panahi’s statement at the end of this article.)
Panahi, who was co-awarded the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in October 2013 along with currently imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, is banned from leaving Iran or making films.
In March 2010, Panahi and Rasoulof were both convicted of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state” and sentenced to six years in prison. Upon appeal, their sentences were reduced to one year in prison but have not been enforced.
Rasoulof was again blacklisted by the Iranian government after receiving international praise for his film, “A Man of Integrity,” including the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
After returning from Cannes to Iran in September 2017, the authorities confiscated his passport and informed him that he was no longer allowed to make films.
Another well-known Iranian director, Abdolreza Kahani, also condemned Rasoulof’s sentence.
“I have known #Mohamad_Rasoulof for many years. He is a pleasant and bold filmmaker.
It is unfortunate that our country imprisons such good and committed individuals,” tweeted Kahani on July 26.
Kahani has been based in France since moving there in 2015 after three of his films were banned in the Islamic Republic.
Independent filmmakers face intense pressure from the Iranian government to refrain from producing work that is critical of state policies and officially sanctioned narratives on politics, culture and society.
The government subjects all artists in the country to restrictive and arbitrary censorship policies administered by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and has a documented history of persecuting independent filmmakers who resist this pressure.
“Rasoulof is an artist,” said the petition according to a translation posted by IndieWire. “It is absurd to accuse him of being a ‘national security threat.’ His sole weapon is his palette of shadows and light.”
IndieWire noted that the Film at Lincoln Center and the New York Film Festival have condemned Rasoulof’s sentence.
The European Film Academy has also called for Rasoulof’s release.
Following is CHRI’s full translation of Jafar Panahi’s statement:
Mohammad Rasoulof said, “I asked the honorable judge, ‘Have you watched my films?’ He said, no… it was sufficient to read the assessment by the security agencies about me and listen to the answers I gave to his questions.” That response alone points to the judiciary’s lack of independence. For 40 years, judges have been blindly rubber-stamping verdicts against human rights activists, our culture and the people. This is what dictatorships do. History has never witnessed the shackling of thought to such a wide extent–or at least the world of cinema has never seen such a bonfire of movies. Why would a state refuse an independent medium to operate when it has dozens of television and radio transmitters of its own along with the control of a vast cyber army? This is a state that makes tons of propaganda movies. Why should it be afraid of one independent filmmaker or a single movie with substance? Why does an ideology, that claims to be rightful and worldly, raise a sharp sword against a critical filmmaker instead of answering his challenging questions? Is it not because the state’s weak pillars cannot withstand even the slightest tremors and sees suppression the only solution to survive for a bit longer? I must say that jailing one filmmaker and banning a single film, will sow the seeds of tens of new independent filmmakers and movies. By throwing him in jail or putting obstacles in front of his efforts to make movies, the state cannot put chains on Mohammad Rasoulof’s thoughts. He is the type of filmmaker who will leave prison with new stories to tell. We are going through a bitter winter but it shall pass. History will record your disgraceful story. As independent filmmakers and free thinkers, all we can do is show support for our defenseless colleague. Let us not stay silent as this dark cloud will linger above the home of every single one of us.