Acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi, known for his 2015 film Taxi, has been ordered to serve six years in prison after being detained in Tehran last week. Iranian media reports that the Panahi was arrested after visiting Evin prison to inquire on the arrests of fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-e Ahmad.
Per BBC, Panahi had visited Evin to gain information on Rasoulof’s conditions specifically, and hopefully make steps towards his release. Both Rasoulof and Al-e Ahmad had posted statements on social media criticizing the Iranian government’s violent response to protests in Abadan before their arrest. The protests had bubbled up after the collapse of a 10-story building in the city in May, which caused the deaths of over 40 people. Per state news agency Irna, Rasoulof and Al-e Ahmad’s official charges were listed as “inciting unrest and disrupting the psychological security of society.”
Panahi’s wife, Tahereh Saeedi, told BBC Persian that after his inquiry, Panahi was told by authorities he had an outstanding prison sentence to serve. As Saeedi sees it, his imprisonment essentially amounts to government-sanctioned kidnapping.
“Jafar has some rights as a citizen. There’s due process,” Saeedi states. “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 has been arrested for anti-government action before. Per BBC, in 2010 he was convicted for “propaganda against the system” after participating in dissident protests over Iran’s heavily-disputed 2009 presidential election. He was also sentenced to six years in prison at that time, and banned from making films or traveling out of the country for 20 years. Per AFP news agency, Panahi served only two months before being released.
The Cannes Film Festival, where Panahi won Best Screenplay in 2018 for his film Three Faces, also released a statement decrying the arrests of the three filmmakers, and calling for their immediate release.
“The Festival de Cannes strongly condemns these arrests as well as the wave of repression obviously in progress in Iran against its artists,” the statement reads. Cannes also later on affirms: “The Festival remains and will always remain a haven for artists from all over the world and it will relentlessly be at their service in order to convey their voices loud and clear, in the defense of freedom of creation and freedom of speech.”