Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Iranian authorities have arrested two filmmakers following an appeal they posted on social media, accusing them of links to opposition groups based outside the country and plotting to undermine state security of the country, the official Iranian news agency reported on Friday.
According to IRNA, award-winning filmmaker Mohamad Rasoulof and his colleague Mostafa Al-Ahmad have been arrested for posting a statement on social media urging members of Iran’s security forces to lay down their arms.
The hashtag #put—your—gun—down refers to the violent crackdown during unrest following a building collapse in the southwestern city of Abadan that killed at least 41 people more early this year.
The report did not say when the two were arrested. At least 70 Iranian filmmakers and film industry workers had signed the appeal.
The May 23 collapse at the Metropol Building in Abadan, some 660 kilometers (410 miles) southwest of the capital, Tehran, has rekindled painful memories of past national disasters and brought poor construction practices to light, government corruption and negligence in Iran. Demonstrations erupted in Abadan over the collapse and demonstrations saw protesters from the police club and tear gas.
Rasoulof, who has been detained in the past and had his passport confiscated, won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize in 2020 for his film ‘There Is No Evil’. It tells four stories loosely related to themes of the death penalty in Iran and individual freedoms under tyranny.
Shortly after receiving the award, he was sentenced to a year in prison for three films he directed that authorities deemed to be “propaganda against the system”. His lawyer appealed the conviction. He was also banned from making films and traveling abroad.
In 2011, Rasoulof and fellow director Jafar Panahi were arrested for filming without a permit. Both men were sentenced to six years in prison and banned from cinemas for 20 years on charges of “propaganda” against the ruling system, but Rasoulof’s sentence was later reduced to one year on appeal.
That year, Rasoulof’s film “Goodbye” won an award at Cannes but he was not allowed to travel to France to accept it.
Iran’s conservative authorities, many of whom have religious sensitivities, control all the levers of power in the country. They have long viewed many cultural activities as part of a “soft war” by the West against the Islamic Republic. They say Westernization is an attempt to tarnish the country’s Islamic beliefs.