International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR)

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Tuesday, 14 May 2024

Stand Up for Mohammad Rasoulof!

ICFR Protests Severe Verdict Against Exiled Iranian Filmmaker and Persecution of his Film Team

Just before his latest film THE SEED OF THE SACRED FIG premieres at this month’s Cannes Film Festival, Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof has been sentenced to eight years in prison, alongside corporal and material punishment. ICFR decries this unjust and deplorable step taken against Rasoulof, and is additionally concerned for the safety and wellbeing of his film's cast and crew, who are being subjected to the authorities' scrutiny and persecution as well.

This is a grave escalation in the Iranian authorities’ long-standing persecution of the filmmaker, who has now managed to flee his country despite his passport having been confiscated. “With a heavy heart, I chose exile,” Rasoulof writes in a statement he just shared with the world, which can be found in full here. ICFR is relieved to hear that Rasoulof has made it to safety, and is deeply concerned that a filmmaker with such exceptional standing is persecuted out of his home and forced into exile.

Rasoulof’s history with the Iranian authorities has been troublesome since 2010: a six-year prison sentence (later reduced to one year) for “filming without the correct permit” in 2010; a travel ban after winning a top prize at Cannes for A MAN OF INTEGRITY in 2017; and another one-year prison sentence, travel ban and filmmaking ban after winning Berlin’s Golden Bear in 2020 for THERE IS NO EVIL, which casts a critical eye on death penalty in Iran and life under authoritarian rule.

Following his release in 2021, Rasoulof was re-arrested in 2022 after he posted an appeal urging Iranian security forces to stop using weapons during protests. As a result, he has now been sentenced to eight years in prison, punishment by whipping and confiscation of his property. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court considers Rasoulof’s public statements and films “examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the country’s security”.

Rasoulof’s lawyer Babak Paknia confirmed the latest accusation is that he made his latest film without obtaining a licence from the related authorities, that actresses were filmed without wearing the hijab, and that “all key members of the film are banned from leaving the country and have been investigated by the security forces of the Ministry of Intelligence.” In his statement, Rasoulof expresses his concern for his team members still in Iran, writing: “They have been put through lengthy interrogations. The families of some of them were summoned and threatened. Due to their appearance in this movie, court cases were filed against them, and they were banned from leaving the country (...) They (the authorities, red.) were trying to convince the film crew that they were not aware of the film’s story and that they had been manipulated into participating in the project.

Despite the current adversities, Rasoulof also expresses his gratitude for the critical film they have managed to make together: “I have no doubt that restricting and suppressing freedom of expression cannot be justified even if it becomes a spur for creativity, but when there is no way, a way must be made.

ICFR protests vehemently against this unjust sentence and stands in solidarity with Rasoulof and all filmmakers who resist censorship. As Rasoulof writes in his statement, “The world’s cinema community must ensure effective support for the makers of such films. Freedom of speech should be defended, loudly and clearly.

ICFR calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately drop all charges against Mohammad Rasoulof, and we encourage all film and culture institutions around the world to do the same. 

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