Tahereh Saeedi, the wife of imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, has described her husband’s recent imprisonment as being tantamount to “a kidnapping”.
Panahi has been in custody since July 12 after going to the prosecutor’s office in Tehran to follow up on the whereabouts of filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad after they were arrested a few days previously.
It emerged on Monday (July 18) that the Iranian authorities had decided to reactivate a suspended six-year sentence originally meted out to Panahi in 2010 alongside a 20-year filmmaking and travel ban.
His detention comes amid a clampdown on freedom of expression in Iran as the government reins in a wave of popular protests about a raft of issues, including the cost-of-living crisis, the government’s handling of a deadly building collapse, and stricter dress codes for women.
Speaking to the BBC’s Persian service Saeedi said: “Jafar has some rights as a citizen. There’s due process. To imprison someone, they need to be summoned first. But to imprison someone who is protesting outside the jail raises a lot of questions. This is a kidnapping.”
Panahi, who broke out internationally in 1995 with Cannes Caméra d’Or winner The White Balloon, has spent much of his later filmmaking career caught up in the crosshairs of the draconian Iranian authorities.
He was first arrested in July 2009 after attending the funeral of Neda Agha-Soltan, a philosophy student who was shot dead in Tehran by government-backed militiamen, while participating in so-called Green Revolution protests.
She became a symbol of the revolution after amateur video footage of the moment in which she was shot went viral on the internet.
Panahi was arrested for a second time in March 2010 while shooting a feature set against the backdrop of the Green Revolution. In December of that year, he was handed a six-year suspended prison sentence, none of which he has served until now.
Panahi has continued to make films clandestinely during this period including This Is Not A Film (2011), which was smuggled out of Iran on a USB in a cake; Closed Curtain (2013); the Berlinale Golden Bear-winning film docu-comedy-drama Taxi (2015) and a chapter of the portmanteau pandemic film The Year Of The Everlasting Storm, in which is his elderly mother and pet iguana had starring roles.
The director appeared to be enjoying more freedom of late and had recently finished shooting his latest fiction feature No Bears, which was expected to launch at a festival in the coming months.
The drama follows two parallel love stories in which the partners contend with obstacles, the force of superstition and the mechanics of power. It is Panahi’s first fiction feature since road movie 3 Faces. That film won best screenplay in competition in Cannes in 2018 but director was not allowed to travel to the festival for the screening.
Earlier this week, the Amsterdam-based International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR), called in an open letter for the international cinema community to speak out in support of the filmmaking and artistic communities in Iran amid the fresh wave of suppression.
It also raised awareness around the case of Iranian documentarians Mina Keshavarz and Firouzeh Khosravani, who were arrested in their Tehran homes in May and then released on bail a week later with a travel ban.
“More than ever it is crucial that the international film community comes together and speaks up on behalf of those who have become silenced through repression and imprisonment, in the same way, those filmmakers were giving voice to the voiceless and oppressed,” it said.
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