Iranian students condemn the arrest of Iranian filmmakers

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By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

The Islamic Society of the students of the cinema and theater department of Tehran’s Art University has condemned the jailing of two Iranian filmmakers, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Nourizad, and criticized artists for their silence over the pair’s jailing.

Mohammad Nourizad (left) and Jafar Panahi were arrested in the aftermath of
June’s presidential election in Iran.

“Where is your honor? They arrest your colleagues one after another and you remain silent. What are you afraid of?” the students’ statement asked.

Award-winning Panahi, who was arrested on March 1, is facing security charges. Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini said last week that Panahi was arrested because he was making an antigovernment film about the events that followed last year’s presidential vote.

Ahead of his arrest, Panahi had said that he was being interrogated and put under pressure over a film he hadn’t yet made.

In an interview (see video) with the BBC before his arrest, he talked about the pressure on Iranian filmmakers and said he’d been deprived of his right to make movies.

“I was taken for several interrogation sessions of over three to four hours. They spoke of inconceivable charges that were shocking. One of the charges against me was my intention to produce a critical film in the future. I asked them how I could be interrogated about a film that I have not yet produced,” Panahi told the BBC.

“Mentioning other charges; for instance, they added I could be detained between three to nine months for one charge or one to nine years for another, etc. So counting the minimum period of my detention, I asked them, do you want to imprison me for 35 years? I don’t think I would live that long!”

Panahi also told the BBC that “I have been denied the right to produce any film since the coming to power of Ahmadinejad. What could be more suicidal for a filmmaker than being barred from making a film? It wouldn’t change anything if I don’t. I live to make films; actually it is the times when I’m filming when my life has meaning. Well, when they deprive me of making a film, I would have to spread word in any other possible way. I know it falls heavy on them.

“It is for the same reason that I have been banned from leaving the country. I’m imprisoned within my own country. Although they haven’t put me in prison, it is all the same: I’m a prisoner when I’m deprived of my passion. I have to sit at home and wait for a miracle to happen after four years that would allow me to produce films.”

The Cannes Film Festival, which begins in May, has declared Panahi a symbolic guest of honor.

Nourizad has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison and 50 lashes for insulting Iran’s supreme leader and other charges. He has 20 days to appeal against the sentence that was made public on April 17.

Following last year’s disputed presidential election, Nourizad ,who used to be a columnist with the hard-line “Kayhan” daily, criticized Iran’s leaders. He called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to dismiss President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The students from the Art University said in their statement that while Iranian officials believe that by jailing people such as Panahi and Nourizad they can destroy them, every day that they are in jail “hundreds of Panahis and Nourizads are being born outside.”

The students called for the release of Panahi and Nourizad.

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