Acclaimed director Jafar Panahi has become the third Iranian filmmaker to be arrested in the country in less than a week.
Panahi, 62, who won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2015 for his film “Taxi,” was arrested in Tehran on Monday when he went to the prosecutor’s office to check on filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran’s semi-official news agency Mehr reported.
Rasoulof, a fellow Golden Bear winner in 2020 for “There Is No Evil,” and his colleague Mostafa Aleahmad were arrested last Friday, accused of attempting to “inflame and disrupt the psychological safety of the community,” according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
Reuters, citing the IRNA state news agency, reported that the pair were among a group of filmmakers who had signed a letter calling on the security forces to lay down their weapons during protests that followed the deadly collapse of a 10-story building in the city of Abadan on May 23.
Human Rights Watch said the arrests were part of a “crackdown … on peaceful dissent amid the deterioration of economic conditions and what appears to be a deadlock in reviving the international community’s nuclear deal with Iran.”
HRW described Rasoulof as an outspoken critic who was previously sentenced in an Iranian court to “one year in prison and a two-year ban on making films on the charge of ‘propaganda against the system’ for the content of his movies.”
The filmmakers’ arrests have drawn international condemnation.
On Monday, the Cannes Film Festival issued a statement demanding “the immediate release” of Panahi and of Rasoulof and Aleahmad, who it said were “protesting against violence against civilians in Iran.”
“The Festival de Cannes strongly condemns these arrests as well as the wave of repression obviously in progress in Iran against its artists,” it said.
Panahi’s film “3 Faces” won best screenplay at Cannes in 2018; Rasoulof’s work has won multiple awards at the festival since 2011.
Separately, Iran’s former deputy interior minister, Mostafa Tajzadeh, was also arrested last Friday, accused of colluding against national security, and of “publishing lies to disturb public opinion,” according to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency.
Tajzadeh, who briefly served under President Mohammad Khatami in 1998, has become an outspoken government critic, recently tweeting to his 350,000 followers that “according to the latest Stasis survey, 57% of Iranians” support the Iranian nuclear deal “and 17% are against it.”
The US pulled out of the Iranian nuclear agreement in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump; since then, Iran has taken a series of steps that breach the limits imposed by the deal on its nuclear program.
US and European officials have repeatedly warned that the window for a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – as the deal is known – is narrowing, with State Department spokesperson Ned Price saying in mid-June that “it’s an open question if we can get there.”
Iran’s government has faced public anger in recent months over rising food prices, exacerbated by Western sanctions, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war.
Anti-government protests were reported in at least 40 cities and towns across Iran in May; demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans and called for the fall of the regime, according to social media videos posted by activists.
“Unable or unwilling to tackle the many severe challenges facing Iran, the government has resorted to its repressive reflex of arresting popular critics,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There is no reason to believe these recent arrests are anything but cynical moves to deter popular outrage at the government’s widespread failures.”