By Kayhan Life Staff
More than 300 activists and people working in the Iranian film industry have signed an online petition titled “Lay Down Your Weapon,” condemning the arrest of the award-winning director Mohammad Rasoulof and filmmaker Mostafa Alahmad, calling for their “immediate and unconditional release.”
Authorities have accused Mr. Rasoulof and Mr. Alahmad of “inciting unrest.”
“On the evening of July 8, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alahmad — two filmmakers united by their critical views — were arrested in a planned and coordinated raid on their homes and taken to an unknown location,” the online petition said.
“We condemn the constant pressuring and suppression of independent and dissenting filmmakers and violation of their fundamental individual and civil rights by the relevant organizations and institutions, and call for the immediate and unconditional release of our colleagues,” the statement said.
“We urge activists and people in the film industry worldwide to join our efforts to secure the release of the imprisoned artists and critics,” the statement added.
The signatories included film directors Bahram Beyzai, Jafar Panahi, Asghar Farhadi, Bahman Ghobadi, Mohammad Shirvani, Hana Kamkar, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Reza Dormishian, and Abdolreza Kahani; Cinematographers Homayoun Payvar; actresses Katayoun Riahi, Mojdeh Shamsaei, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, and Taraneh Alidoosti; film editor Mohsen Abdolvahab and theater director Homayoun Ghanizadeh.
The number of people signing the online petition (#lay_doan_your_weapon) will most likely increase.
In a tweet on July 9, Rasoulof’s lawyer, Maryam Kianersi, said that she and another attorney, Mahnaz Jangjoo, had gone to the Shahin Moqaddas prosecutor’s office to find out the reason for her client’s arrest.
The authorities had explained to Ms. Kianersi that Rasoulof had to serve a previous “one-year prison sentence,” and the new charges against him stemmed from the statement “Lay Down Your Weapons,” adding that he was “being held in solitary confinement.”
Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alahmad were among an Iranian cinema group who protested the collapse of the 10-story Metropol building in Abadan, in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, on May 23, which killed 40 people and injured scores of others.
The incident sparked a wave of angry protests across the nation.
Earlier, in July 2019, the Tehran Revolutionary Court handed Rasoulof a one-year prison sentence and banned him from leaving the country for two years and taking part in any social and political activities because of his 2017 film “A Man of Integrity” (Lerd).
Rasoulof’s film “There Is No Evil” won the top prize, the Golden Bear, at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival.
“We are deeply concerned about the arrest of Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alahmad,” a statement by Berlin Film Festival co-directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian said on July 9. “It’s shocking that artists are taken into custody because of their peaceful endeavors against violence.”
“The arrest of Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alahmad is another example of how the corrupt nation and municipal authorities twist what is a simple act of protest into an endangerment of public order charge,” European Film Academy chairperson Mike Downey said in a statement.
“The open letter which they signed calling on the security forces to ‘lay down their arms’ in the face of outrage over the ‘corruption, theft, inefficiency and repression’ surrounding the Abadan collapse is an honest statement, which demands an honest answer,” Mr. Downey, who is the co-founder of the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR), noted.
“Instead, the only response of the government is repression and arrests. We urge the Iranian authorities to release these two artists without delay,” Downey added.
On May 29, several people working in the Iranian film industry published an open letter on social media urging the security forces to “lay down their weapons” and not to crush the protest sparked by the collapse of the Metropol building block.
“A roaring wave of oppressed people from across the country have expressed their sympathy and voiced their support for the people of Abadan who have suffered great pain,” the statement said. “Now that public anger at chronic corruption, theft, incompetence, and suppression have sparked a wave of protests, we urge all security forces, which have become an instrument of oppression, to ‘lay down their weapons’ and embrace the nation instead.”
Many of the signatories to the statement faced a severe backlash from the country’s officials and cultural institutions. Many reportedly received threatening phone calls.
In comments reported by the Tehran-based Entekhab news agency on June 5, the Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, criticized those in the film industry who had signed the letter.
“We will deal decisively with anyone who uses a worthless and delusional statement to attack those who safeguard the security of the country,” Entekhab quoted Mr. Esmaili saying.
On May 31, following the collapse of the Metropol building, Rasoulof tweeted: “They have threatened some signatories with arrests and told others they might never work again. This is the state of free speech in the Islamic Republic. Some people think cinema is a military barracks and try to silence those in the film industry who speak against violence.”