Iran's "House of Cinema" building in Tehran

Islamic Republic Intensifying Crackdown On Filmmakers, Artists

Tuesday, 11/15/2022

Tens of artists in Iranian cinema, theater, and music industry have been banned from working or leaving the country over their support for antigovernment protests.

In an article published by reformist Shargh daily on Monday, Iran’s House of Cinema, formerly known as the Iranian Alliance of Motion Picture Guilds, said it has prepared a list of 100 filmmakers as well as other movie, music and theater personalities who have been either arrested or banned from work.

The paper said the list was made in collaboration with Iran’s Theater Forum and Iran’s Music House but was not released due to safety reasons. However, it said that documentary maker Mozhgan Ilanlou and actress Katayoun Riahi were among those who are currently under arrest, adding that the detained artists are being held in Evin and other prisons around Tehran, as well as in Tabriz and Sanandaj prisons.

Actress Katayoun Riahi
Documentary maker Mozhgan Ilanlou

According to Shargh, a 10-member taskforce has been set up to keep a list of measures against artists and follow up on their whereabouts. One of its members, Mehdi Kouhian, himself a producer and a legal expert, said that there is no exact data about the number of arrested or banned artists because the authorities do not publicly announce such things. He added that the recent detainees either protested online or took part in street rallies.

According to the article, during the past few months “most famous actors and directors" have been banned from working and some of their contracts were terminated while they were working on projects.

Producer Mehdi Kouhian

No matter how big the list of banned or arrested artists is, the list of celebrities who are expressing support for the uprising is bigger. Every day, more and more Iranian actresses and athletes are appearing in public or posting photos of themselves without the Islamic Republic’s mandatory hijab as a show of solidarity, while many male artists voice their support verbally or by participating in protest gatherings. 

Iranian actresses Khazar Ma'soomi (left) Donya Madani (center) and Taraneh Alidoosti
Actress Sahar Zakaria

However, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, called such acts of support "worthless" in a speech last month and asked the judiciary to deal with them. 

Even before the current wave of protests began in mid-September, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance had started cracking down on filmmakers and artists who were critical of the regime. About a month before the start of protests, Mohammad Khazaei, the head of the Cinema department of the ministry spoke of a list of banned filmmakers and actors for various reasons. In recent decades, such a list has always existed, but it was the first time that a high-ranking official publicly talked about it. 

In August, Culture Minister Mohammad Mahdi Esmaili defended banning artists and once again threatened them to stop “working against the national interests" of the Islamic Republic. 

On Saturday, imprisoned filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof issued a statement from Evin Prison warning about serious deterioration of dissident blogger Hossein Ronaghi’s health who was on a hunger strike in the past 50 days before being transferred to hospital on Sunday.

In July, Iran’s judiciary said award-winning film director Jafar Panahi was sent to Evin prison to serve his six-year sentence. Panahi, who has won numerous awards, including the Golden Leopard at Locarno Festival, the Golden Lion in Venice, and the Silver Bear at the Berlinale, was arrested earlier as he was protesting the detention of two other award-winning filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alehahmad.

Rasoulof – another prominent filmmaker with several international awards such as the Golden Bear – and Alehahmad – who is known in international film galas for his short works -- were arrested July 8 as part of the Iranian crackdown on the signatories of a collective statement titled “Lay down the gun issued by more than 100 film industry personalities at the end of May.

The statement had called on military and security forces who “have become tools for cracking down on the people,” not to suppress protesters during a wave of protests across Iran that were triggered when a 10-story building collapsed in Abadan, leaving at least 40 people dead and dozens missing.

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