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Award-Winning Iranian Filmmaker Rasoulof Sentenced To Prison, Travel Ban

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof at the Cannes film festival in 2017.

Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof has been sentenced to one year in prison after being convicted of "spreading propaganda" against the Islamic republic, a charge that is often brought against intellectuals and critics of the Iranian establishment.

Rasoulof told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on July 22 that he also has been banned from leaving the country for two years and faces a two-year ban on membership in political and social parties and organizations.

He has 20 days to appeal the sentence.

The 47-year-old filmmaker, who has been detained and banned from leaving the country in the past, says the content of movies, which authorities consider a threat against the clerical establishment, is the reason for his new conviction.

"All my films have been cited in the text of the court order, all of my movies have been blasted," he said while adding that during his trial his last three films, -- Goodbye, Manuscripts Don’t Burn, and A Man Of Integrity -- were specifically highlighted as painting a dark picture of Iranian society and creating despair.

A still from Rasoulof's A Man of Integrity, which won the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes film festival in 2017.
A still from Rasoulof's A Man of Integrity, which won the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes film festival in 2017.

Goodbye is the portrait of an attorney whose license has been revoked by the government. Manuscripts Don’t Burn is a political thriller about a writer who’s been compiling his memoirs about his time in jail and other issues dealing with state repression, while A Man Of Integrity is the story of a man working at a goldfish farm who becomes ensnared in corruption.

"I think there’s an issue with the way I make movies. But if a filmmaker wants to remain honest then there’s nothing that can be done, everything becomes political," a defiant Rasoulof said, adding that even a film about Tehran’s air is likely to become political.

Rasoulof said the prison sentence was issued following extensive interrogation sessions he was subjected to by the intelligence branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which has in recent years arrested several dual nationals, journalists, environmentalists and others.

“They see themselves as caring for [Iran’s] system and they see us as enemies. And I simply don’t understand what kind of caring this is when they can’t tolerate any criticism,” he said.

'Extensive Interrogation Sessions'

Rasoulof said Iranian authorities want filmmakers to act as propaganda agents for the clerical establishment and repeat state-sanctioned narratives.

“I’m a filmmaker, I tell stories and I’ve never claimed that my stories are 100 percent true, but they can’t even tolerate my stories,” he said.

Rasoulof and several other independent filmmakers, including acclaimed director and screenwriter Jafar Panahi, have come under state pressure in recent years.

Still, they have managed to produce films that have received accolades and awards at international films festivals while being banned inside the country.

Rasoulof was awarded the top prize in one of the sections of the Cannes Film Festival in 2017 for A Man Of Integrity (Lerd).

Panahi and Rasoulof were both detained in 2010. Both were later sentenced to six years in prison over a documentary on the 2009 disputed presidential elections and the mass protests that followed the vote. Rasoulof’s sentence was later reduced to one year in prison by an appeals court.

Rasoulof's lawyer, Nasser Zarafshan, said he will appeal the sentence while the filmmaker expressed doubts over the process and accused Iran's judiciary of being used as a tool by the state to silence critics.

"Iran’s judiciary is standing with the establishment and justice has no meaning to them, I believe," he said.

"They’re just looking at who is supporting them and who is raising criticism," he added.

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), said in a statement that Rasoulof’s "only crime" was pursuing an artistic vision "that didn’t support government narratives about Iranian culture and society."

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.