Iranian security officials have stepped up pressure on filmmakers who signed a recent statement against state repression to force them to rescind their signatures.
If they refuse, the filmmakers have been warned that they could be blacklisted and banned from making films in the Islamic Republic. A blacklist is to be released next week, officials said.
Sources told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that authorities recently summoned a “significant number” of filmmakers and artists who signed a May 29 statement calling on security forces to lay down their arms, telling them to withdraw their signatures of the document.
Among those contacted is a Tehran-based documentary producer who said authorities told him to state publicly that he signed the open letter without knowing its contents.
The producer – who did not want to be named – said he refused to obey, telling officials he read the text of the open letter before signing it. He told Radio Farda that he now expects some type of retaliation, including a travel ban.
The statement signed by some 170 prominent filmmakers, artists and actors was released on May 29 amid protests over the deadly collapse of a tower block in Abadan. This angered authorities who quickly threatened the signatories, forcing many of them to rescind their signatures.
The open letter called on “all who have become agents of repression in military units to lay down their arms and return to the embrace of the nation.” He added that “public outrage over corruption, theft, inefficiency and repression” had prompted the “wave of popular protests”.
In July, authorities arrested the main voices behind the letter, award-winning filmmaker Mohammad Rasulof and his co-signer and filmmaker Mostafa al-Ahmad.
Two days later, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Jafar Panahi was arrested, with authorities saying he should serve a six-year prison sentence handed down to him in 2010 for his support of the opposition green movement. Al-Ahmad was later released on bail while Rasulof and Panahi are still in jail.
Mohammad Khazaei, head of the Cinema Organization of Iran – which is affiliated with the Ministry of Culture – said on August 16 that authorities had called on “those who had no information about the statement to announce it officially for avoid problems”. “
Khazaei added that a list of filmmakers who will be banned will be released soon.
“There is a list, and some [of the names] have been added and removed in many meetings, and it has been decided that the final list will be released next week,” Khazaei said without providing details on who was involved in the blacklisting of filmmakers.
He said he worked to remove some of the filmmakers from the list, adding that “in total, the names of six filmmakers have been announced but their number has been reduced”.
Khazaei added that signatories to the May statement and others linked to the Cannes Film Festival’s “problems” had encountered “problems”.
Hayedeh Safiyari, the Iran-based editor of Iranian-Danish director Ali Abbasi’s film Holy Spider, is believed to be among those who have come under pressure. Khazaei said his fate will become clear next week with the release of the blacklist.
Tehran had protested the screening of Holy Spider at the Cannes Film Festival, saying it insulted Muslims’ religious beliefs and aimed to “show a gloomy image of Iranian society”.
The film is inspired by the true story of an Iranian construction worker who killed 16 sex workers in the 2000s in the Iranian city of Mashhad, home to a revered Shia shrine. Iranian Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who lives in exile in France, won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her role as a journalist investigating the murders.
In June, Iran’s Culture Minister Mehdi Esmaili warned that those who had worked on Holy Spider would be “punished”.
“If people inside the country collaborated on this film, they will be punished,” he said, without providing a legal basis for the decision.
The pressure on the filmmakers comes amid a new crackdown on dissent in Iran. Several journalists, activists and lawyers have been summoned or arrested by the authorities in recent weeks.
Authorities have also stepped up their crackdown on women who push back on mandatory hijab rules while announcing new restrictions on women’s dress in universities and government offices.
Authorities have also stepped up their persecution of members of the Baha’i Faith, arresting a dozen people and confiscating land in the northern province of Mazandaran.