Berlin Golden Bear Winner Mohammad Rasoulof Arrested in Iran for Social Media Protest Against Police Violence

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Prominent Iranian auteur Mohammad Rasoulof, winner of the 2020 Berlin Golden Bear for “There Is No Evil,” and fellow filmmaker Mostafa Al-Ahmad have been arrested in Iran for posting a statement on social media in the wake of a violent government crackdown.

Rasoulof’s producers Saturday also provided an update Saturday, saying that Rasoulof is being held in solitary confinement and also being interrogated in Tehran’s Evin Prison where Iran’s political prisoners are customarily held.

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“Mr. Mohammad Rasoulof was arrested under the pretext of a one-year prison sentence issued for the movie, ‘The Man of Integrity.’ The verdict was issued by the Revolutionary Court,” the statement said, adding that there are two other open cases currently pending against Rasoulof.

“In one case, he is being accused for making the documentary film, ‘Intentional Crime,’ in which he investigates the intentional death of Iranian poet and writer, Baktash Abtin,” the producers stated. “The other accusation is for releasing a statement that has gone viral on social media known as #lay_down_your_weapon,” they also noted.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA on Friday reported that the two directors have been detained for posting an appeal urging Iranian security forces to stop using weapons using the hashtag #put_your_gun_down following protests in May in the southwestern city of Abadan where there were clashes with police. The uproar was prompted by a building collapse that resulted in 41 people being killed.

The appeal against police violence for which Rasoulov and Al-Ahmad have been arrested was signed by at least 70 other members of Iran’s film community, according to the Associated Press.

Rasoulov’s Iranian producers Kaveh Farnam and Farzad Pak, issued an initial statement on Friday demanding their release.

“On Friday, July 8th, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad, respected and dedicated Iranian filmmakers, were arrested in their residences in a coordinated and brutal attack under false pretenses and transferred to an unknown location,” the statement said.

“As we continue to strongly condemn the authorities for their disregard for basic human rights and civil liberties and the persistent repression and pressure inflicted on committed and independent Iranian filmmakers, we demand the immediate and unconditional release of our colleagues. We ask for support from artists and cinematographers all over the world for the release of imprisoned artists,” it went on to add.

There is currently no information about the charges brought against Mostafa Al-Ahmad, the other Iranian director who was also arrested yesterday, or the conditions in which he is being held.

News of the Iranian filmmakers’ arrests is also rapidly reverberating in the international film community.

“We are deeply concerned about the arrest of Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad,” said Berlin Film Festival co-directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian in a statement on Saturday.

“It’s shocking that artists are taken into custody because of their peaceful endeavors against violence,” they underlined.

“The arrest of Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al Ahmad is just 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,” noted in another statement European Film Academy Chairman Mike Downey who is also co-founder of the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR).

“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.  Instead, the only response of the government is repression and arrests. We urge the Iranian authorities to release these two artists without delay,” he added.

Rasoulov is among Iran’s most prominent directors even though none of his films have screened in Iran where they are banned. In 2011, the year he won two prizes at Cannes with his censorship-themed “Goodbye,” he was sentenced with fellow director Jafar Panahi to six years in prison and a 20-year ban on filmmaking for alleged anti-regime propaganda. His sentence was later suspended and he was released on bail. In 2017 Iranian authorities confiscated Rasoulof’s passport upon his return from the Telluride Film Festival where his “A Man of Integrity,” about corruption and injustice in Iran, had screened.

He was not allowed by Iranian authorities to attend Berlin in 2020. The director’s daughter, Baran Rasoulof, who stars in “There Is No Evil” — which consists of four connected episodes centered on the death penalty and repression of personal freedom in Iran — accepted the fest’s top prize on her father’s behalf.

“There is a conservative backlash [in Iran], and it’s impact on cinema is very obvious,” he told Variety in an interview from Iran during the fest.

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