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Iran impressons film directors amid escalating crackdown on dissent and protests

In the largest crackdown on its film industry since 2010, Iran ordered internationally acclaimed filmmaker Jafar Panahi, 62, to serve a six-year jail sentence after he criticized the government.

Panahi was arrested on July 11 when he went to the prosecutor’s office to follow up on the arrest of Mohammad Rasoulof, another well-known filmmaker, and Mostafa Aleahmad. The two were detained on July 8 after criticizing the authorities’ response to the collapse of a multi-story building in Abadan, in the oil-rich, southwestern province of Khuzestan, on May 23, that killed 43 people. The Iranian authorities accused the filmmakers of having links to opposition groups outside the country and plotting to undermine state security.

Jafar Panahii, 2007

Their imprisonment is part of a broader attempt by the clergy-led bourgeois nationalist regime of President Ebrahim Raisi to silence the filmmakers and politically threaten other critics of the regime. It takes place amid a government campaign of intimidation and repression against any opposition to the soaring cost of living that is making it impossible for workers and rural toilers, not just in Iran but across the globe, to feed their families.

This attack on democratic rights and free speech must be opposed and a campaign mounted by filmmakers, writers, artists, workers and youth everywhere to demand that the sentence be overturned immediately, and all filmmakers, artists and labor activists be released from Iran’s jails.

Following the Abadan building collapse in May, local officials, instead of sending in relief teams to help in the search, deployed anti-riot squads to disperse the crowds of volunteers and mourners and sent in security forces to demolish the building before the search for any survivors was complete. Angry crowds took to the streets to protest at the rampant corruption and breach of regulations that had led to the collapse, demanding the prosecution and punishment of officials.

Protests spread to other cities across the country that soon morphed into anti-government rallies. The authorities responded by shutting down access to the internet, ordering shops to close and sending in riot police to disperse the protests with teargas, warning shots, mass arrests and intimidation. Rasoulof wrote an open letter, signed by other filmmakers and artists, about the “corruption, theft, inefficiency and repression” relating to the building collapse and called on security forces to “lay down their arms.”

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