Iranian Auteur Jafar Panahi Arrested Amid Conservative Backlash

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Prominent dissident Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi, known globally for prizewinning works such as “The Circle,” “Offside,” “This is Not a Film,” and 2015 Berlin Golden Bear winner “Taxi,” has been arrested in Tehran, Agence France Press is reporting and several sources have confirmed.

“Jafar Panahi has been arrested today [Monday] when he went to the prosecutor’s office to follow up on the situation of another film-maker, Mohammad Rasoulof,” AFP said, citing Iranian news agency Mehr.

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Panahi’s arrest marks the third detention of an Iranian filmmaker in less than a week, coming after the recent arrests of Rasoulof and fellow filmmaker Mostafa Al-Ahmad, which took place over the weekend and were allegedly prompted by the directors posting a statement on social media in the wake of a violent government crackdown.

Panahi, who is considered among Iranian cinema’s greatest living masters, has won multiple festival awards, including the Venice Golden Lion in 2000 for “The Circle,” and the Un Certain Regard Jury prize in Cannes for “Crimson Gold” in 2003, among other prestigious prizes. “Closed Curtain,” which competed in Berlin in 2013, won the screenplay award that year.

The Cannes Film Festival on Monday launched an appeal demading “the immediate release of filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof, Mostafa Aleahmad and Jafar Panahi,” it said in a statement. The Venice fest also issued a statement joining its voice “to the many that are now speaking out in the world to condemn the repressive actions underway and demands the immediate liberation of the directors arrested for defending the right to freedom of expression and creation,” it said. 

Berlin has also voiced its outrage against the Iranian arrests.

During his long distinguished career, Panahi has repeatedly been detained and jailed, or put under house arrest, on vague charges of “propaganda against the system,” along with Rasoulof. Panahi has also been banned from making films, writing scripts, traveling abroad or giving interviews.

In the past decades under the country’s Islamic government, many Iranian directors and actors have been arrested and accused of propaganda. Many have been jailed or prevented from leaving the country.

In 2014, the climate improved during the mandate of more progressive Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, but there now appears to be a more conservative backlash underway under the current Iranian government, headed by hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, who took office in Aug. 2021.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA on Friday reported that Rasoulof and Al-Ahmad had 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, including Panahi according to some reports.

It appears that Panahi, along with a group of other filmmakers, visited Tehran’s Evin prison today in Tehran, where Iran’s political prisoners are customarily held, and that Panahi was arrested there when he left the prosecutor’s office.

 

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