Thousands of Iranian filmmakers, actors, and other artists are on a secret government blacklist that bans them from working or having their work shown in public.
That is the startling revelation made by the ex-head of Iran’s state-run TV and radio, the first time a former official has disclosed the existence of such a list.
Mohammad Sarafraz, the former head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state-run entity that runs all radio and TV broadcasting in the Islamic republic, also revealed that the country’s notorious intelligence services are involved in the crackdown.
Speaking to the pro-reformist Shargh daily on March 12, Sarafraz said "intelligence organizations" had "insisted that thousands of people engaged in arts, drama, and making films and TV series should be banned from presenting their works through IRIB."
Sarafraz also said the "interference and meddling of intelligence organizations in IRIB’s internal affairs" was one of the reasons he abruptly resigned in May 2016, just 18 months into a five-year term as chief.
Sarafraz's brief term was marred by scandals and controversies, including an outcry over an alleged ethnic slur against the country’s ethnic Azeri minority during a children’s TV show in November 2015.
The head of the IRIB is directly appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is accountable to nobody but him. The IRIB has come under criticism from rights activists and dissidents and has been accused of jamming independent TV and radio shows and carrying political and religious propaganda.
Tight Censorship Rules
Sarafraz's remarks expose the extent of the crackdown on independent artists who have fallen foul of the tight censorship rules imposed since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when authorities first blacklisted scores of prominent filmmakers, actors, and screenwriters who earned fame before the revolution.
The new regime associated many of them with Western-style decadence. With few exceptions, they were barred from acting and directing any films in Iran. The IRIB and the new ruling establishment also imposed a media ban on the prerevolutionary celebrities.
Among them was celebrated Iranian actor and director Nasser Malek Motiee, who was under a media ban for nearly 40 years. His death in May 2018 prompted antigovernment protests in Tehran, with demonstrators condemning the ban imposed on Motiee.
The government’s strict censorship rules forbid almost all physical gestures of romantic love, limit the kinds of issues that can be discussed, and bar women from singing or dancing on screen. They also require actresses to wear the hijab -- clothing that masks the figure and covers the hair -- for indoor as well as outdoor scenes, even though in reality Iranian women generally dress at home as they wish and don't cover their hair.
Despite being suffocated by the strict code of censorship, Iranian film directors such as Jafar Panahi, Samira Makhmalbaf, and Asghar Farhadi have managed to produce recent films that are universally acclaimed and have won international awards including Oscars.
Yet many prominent directors have faced the wrath of hard-liners who accuse them of being pro-Western.
Some have ended up in jail, including Keyvan Karimi, who served a one-year prison sentence for "insulting the sacred" for his film Writing On The City, a documentary about political slogans written on the walls of buildings in Tehran.
Panahi has been banned from making movies or leaving the country over his support for the opposition Green Movement, which was formed to protest alleged fraud in the 2009 presidential vote and which was violently suppressed by authorities.
Panahi has made a few movies that have been screened outside the country despite the official ban, including a 2015 film, Taxi, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Panahi has also remained outspoken on social media.