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After Refusing to Pull Film from Cannes, Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof Sentenced to Prison in Iran

Sentence Comes on Heels of Death Sentence Against Rapper Toomaj Salehi. Nationwide Assault on Artistic Freedom Reveals Iran’s Agenda to Crush Dissent. Press release of Center for Human Rights in Iran

The eight-year prison and flogging sentence issued against renowned filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof is part of a campaign to crush dissent among artists in Iran and should be condemned at the Cannes Film Festival, where his latest film will be shown, and worldwide, said the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“One by one, the Iranian authorities are going after the leading lights of Iranian arts and culture, trying to silence dissent and crush artistic freedom, whether through prison or hanging,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of CHRI.

“A few weeks ago, dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi was sentenced to death for his music, and now Rasoulof has been sentenced to flogging and years of imprisonment,” Ghaemi said.

“The sentence against Rasoulof came after the Islamic Republic’s attempt to strong-arm Rasoulof into withdrawing his film from Cannes failed, and it shows the depths to which the Iranian authorities will go to punish any individual who is brave enough to pursue their art independently,” he added.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran calls upon officials and artists at Cannes, film associations and artistic freedom organizations worldwide, and global leaders in government and the UN to vehemently condemn this brutal and lawless persecution of Rasoulof and the many other independent artists who are being brutally punished for the exercise of their artistic freedom in Iran. Specifically:

  • International artists and film associations must vocally denounce Rasoulof’s draconian sentence and stand firm against the suppression of dissenting voices.

  • Cannes Film Festival attendees must demand Rasoulof’s release and expose Iran’s wider persecution of artists.

  • Cultural attachés of foreign embassies in Tehran must protest the ongoing repression of artists and demand these sentences be rescinded.

  • The UN’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Iran, the UN Human Rights Council, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, must condemn the Islamic Republic’s egregious violations and monitor the plight of dissident artists in Iran.

Musician Shervin Hajipour and actresses Taraneh Alidoosti and Katayoun Riahi are among the artists and actresses in Iran who have also been arrested during this period for engaging in peaceful dissent.

Actors Told to Pressure Rasoulof to Pull Film from Cannes Film Festival 

Rasoulof’s latest film, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” will be screened soon in the competition section of the Cannes International Film Festival.

The outspoken filmmaker’s latest prison sentence, upheld by the appeals court, comes on the heels of several unnamed actors and producers on this film being summoned and questioned last week by authorities to convince Rasoulof to withdraw the film from the festival.

“Some of the film actors have been banned from leaving the country, and according to their statements, after several hours of questioning, they were asked to ask the director to withdraw his film from the Cannes Festival,” tweeted Rasoulof’s lawyer Babak Paknia on April 29, 2024.

Ten days later, Rasoulof was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment, five of which are mandatory, upheld by the appeals court. In addition to imprisonment, he faces flogging, a fine, and confiscation of property though no specific details have been released beyond this.

According to tweets by Paknia, Rasoulof was sentenced because he signed statements supporting basic human rights, and because of the films and documentaries he created (which were disapproved of by the state), for which he was charged with colluding with the intention of committing a crime against national security.

Three weeks earlier, dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi received a death sentence for the lyrics of his music and for participating in the country’s “Woman, Life, Freedom” peaceful uprising. Just today, two other rappers and artists, Wafa Ahmedpour, known as “Wafadar,” and singer Daniyal Moghadam, were apprehended by security forces in Shiraz and whisked away to an undisclosed location, as reported by the Human Rights Activists News Agency.

The Islamic Republic’s campaign against artistic freedom and peaceful dissent has been met with intense domestic criticism in Iran. In a statement, Iran’s Independent Filmmaker Association criticized the latest sentence handed to the director.

“Once again, the judiciary’s verdict against Mohammad Rasoulof proved that the law is only a playground for stubbornness and revenge in the legal system contaminated by government jurisprudence,” the statement said.

“Independent and freedom-loving cinematographers condemn the invalid judgment of the judiciary against Mohammad Rasoulof and stand by him and all the artists who make fun of government censorship.”

The ongoing persecution campaign against Rasoulof, Salehi and many other artists engaged in peaceful dissent in Iran intensified after Iran’s “Woman, Life, Freedom” uprising in 2022 saw vocal support by many famous artists, and flagrantly violates Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which enshrines freedom of opinion and expression, to which Iran is a party.

Rasoulof’s Decade of Defiance Against Political Persecution

Rasoulof, an honorary member of the Iranian Writers Association, has faced a series of security and judicial pressures including threats, summons, and interrogations in connection with his artistic and social activities, and his defense of political prisoners.

In July 2022, Rasoulof and fellow artists were arrested for joining the “Lay Down Your Guns” campaign, demanding the military refrain from lethal force against protesters. Despite his release in February 2023, the campaign of oppression persisted.

Two years prior, in July 2020, Rasoulof was sentenced to one year in prison and a two-year ban on travel and political activity.

In September 2017, following his Cannes prize win for “A Man of Integrity,” highlighting corruption in Iran, his passport was confiscated upon his return to Iran.

In December 2010, he was sentenced to six years in prison and a 20-year filmmaking ban for his documentary on the contested 2009 elections. While the sentence was eventually overturned, the pattern of persecution against independent artists has continued and intensified.

Second publication by courtesy of the Center for Human Rights in Iran


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