Why does the regime arrest filmmakers?

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As is often the case in Iran, the country is in the throes of a series of events that are both shocking and, in a way, not entirely surprising. Since Friday July 8, at least 11 well-known public figures have been arrested. Among them are Mostafa Tajzadeh, former deputy interior minister and acerbic critic of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei; six of the “Mothers for Justice”, women who lost their sons during the November 2019 nationwide protests and have since become activists; filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, two of the most decorated directors in the history of Iranian cinema; and Mostafa Aleahmad, a famous documentary filmmaker.

The mass arrest of opposition politicians and pro-justice activists is, at present, quite common behavior for the authoritarian Islamic Republic. But why filmmakers?

Of all the different Iranian civil society groups, the filmmakers are not the main troublemakers. Their careers in their country of birth depending on the tolerance of cultural censors, even those who are understandably critical of the regime must walk a fine line.

But in May this year, after the collapse of the Metropol building in Abadan left dozens dead and widespread protests which were, as usual, put down, many filmmakers decided enough was enough. On May 29, around 170 people from the industry signed an open letter expressing their solidarity with the protesters and asking the security forces to “lay down your arms”. Among them were directors Masood Kimiyayi, Reza Dormishian, Pooran Derakhshandeh and Mani Haqiqi, and actresses Taraneh Alidoosti (known for her collaborations with Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi), Pegah Ahangarani and Hanie Tavasolli.

Not surprisingly, the signatories included Rasolouf and Panahi. After the 2009 pro-democracy green movement, both were arrested on their own film sets and sentenced to six years in prison; Rasoulouf was released after one, but Panahi was also hit with a 20-year ban on making films and leaving the country. Both have been in and out of court since then, facing — and bravely fending off — an endless barrage of legal harassment. They did not give up the cinema despite the stifling circumstances. Rasoulouf’s last film, No harm donewon the Golden Bear at the Berlinale while Panahi three faces wins the prize for best screenplay at Cannes. Since they are not allowed to leave Iran, their daughters often represent them at festivals, collecting awards on their behalf. They dazzled the world with their commitment to their craft in the face of adversity. Unsurprisingly, their fate was condemned at Cannes, the Berlinale and many others around the world.

The arrests have shaken the entire Iranian film community. Instead of intimidating people, the regime seems to have pushed many normally risk-averse people into activism. Shortly after Rasoulouf and Aleahmad were arrested – on Friday, days before Panahi – more than 200 of their colleagues, including household names like Farhadi, Bahman Ghobadi and Fatemeh Motamed-Aria, signed a statement unequivocally calling upon their release, as well as Panahi himself, who was taken into custody after going to Evin prison to follow the conditions of Rasoluof and Aleahmad. The statement described Rasoulof and Aleahmad as “critical and committed filmmakers” whose arrests came amid a “planned raid”.

According to Rasoulof’s lawyers, he is currently being interrogated in a solitary confinement cell in Evin. He had already received a one-year sentence against him for the manufacture of A man of integritywhich won the first prize at the Cannes Film Festival In some perspective section in 2017. He is now serving this year while facing new charges for signing the May 29 statement.

Speaking to IranWire on condition of anonymity, a prominent Iranian director said: “People in the film community are both scared of being next and really fed up. They already know what terrible conditions people find themselves in. They hear it everywhere they go. Now there has been an attack on our core members. Who knows who’s next?

The timing of the arrests has also sparked much speculation. Most of them are led by the IRGC, Khamenei’s main power base and virtually in charge of the country at this point. The IRGC saw a major leadership change last month when its longtime intelligence chief Hossein Taeb was sacked and replaced by a relative unknown, Mohammad Kazemi. Taeb’s time in command had been marked by successive waves of state-sanctioned brutality against protesters and civil society actors across Iran, but also by major security gaps that allowed Israeli forces to repeatedly infiltrate, steal nuclear archives and assassinate some of the leading IRGC figures.

“The new wave of arrests has something to do with power struggles within the IRGC and the regime,” another source with intimate knowledge of the Iranian regime’s internal dynamics told IranWire. “We can’t know who is doing what exactly, but even people from the chief’s office have been named as potential suspects who could be arrested. These are people who work with the Supreme Leader himself.

No such suggestion appeared in the Iranian state-controlled media, of course. On July 11, the IRGC-owned Fars news agency published an article about Tajzadeh, mocking his wife, Fakhrolsadat Mohtashamipour, for taking to Instagram right after his arrest on Friday to denounce the “cowardly IRGC.” and Khamenei. She in turn became the target of pro-regime trolls who clearly had a problem with a woman standing up to them and speaking out independently. But separately, on July 8, Alireza Soleimani, the editor of the conservative website Raja News, foresightedly tweeted: “Mostafa Tajzadeh won’t be the last.”

The prediction proved true, with several of the Mothers for Justice – elderly women who never peacefully called for the murder of their sons to be properly investigated – arrested and charged with “intelligence forces foreign exchanges” or to take money from “foreign financial services”. agents.” Faezeh Hashemi, another political heavyweight and prominent critic of Khamenei’s policies, has also been charged with a new round of alleged crimes.

As always, the wave of arrests testifies more to the regime’s fragility and insecurity than to its strength or determination. Popular protests against the terrible governance of the country continue and the iron fist approach no longer works. During this time, the IRGC and the Security Architecture have succeeded in instilling a new spirit of resistance and solidarity in the film community.

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