Iranian dissident filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof has fled Iran, escaping on foot through rugged mountainous borders after receiving an eight-year prison sentence for his film about Iran’s recent uprising.

In a statement released Monday, the artist said: “I arrived in Europe a few days ago after a long and complicated journey. About a month ago, my lawyers informed me that my eight-year prison sentence was confirmed in the court of appeal and would be implemented on short notice.

“Knowing that the news of my new film would be revealed very soon, I knew that without a doubt, a new sentence would be added to these eight years. I didn’t have much time to make a decision. I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile. The Islamic Republic confiscated my passport in September 2017. Therefore, I had to leave Iran secretly.”

Rasoulof’s film, The Seed of The Sacred Fig, delves into the protest movements in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022. Amini's death in custody, allegedly for not adhering to hijab, ignited widespread protests across Iran.

Rasoulof emphasized that the global cinema community needs to actively support filmmakers who tackle sensitive topics. He advocated for a vocal and unequivocal defense of freedom of speech. According to Rasoulof, filmmakers who bravely resist censorship, rather than comply with it, find great encouragement in the backing of international film organizations. Drawing from his own experiences, he noted that such support is crucial and can prove invaluable in enabling them to persist with their work.

In an Instagram post, Rasoulof also declared, "From now on, I'll be one of the millions of Iranians living abroad who are impatiently waiting to bury you and your oppression system in the dustbin of history."

Mohammad Mehdi Esmaeili, Iran's Culture Minister, on Monday called the film “illegal”. The legal repercussions for Rasoulof, upheld on appeal, include imprisonment, lashes, a fine, and property confiscation.

The crackdown has not only targeted Rasoulof, a long-time dissident hated by the authorities, but also involved the film’s crew, some of whom have faced interrogation and travel bans.

Rasoulof has been restricted from leaving Iran since 2017 and was incarcerated from July 2022 until February 2023. He was released as part of an alleged mass amnesty in response to extensive protests throughout Iran.

Shortly after regaining his freedom, Rasoulof was informed of a new legal case against him related to his film There Is No Evil (2020), which, in his absence, secured the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

A familiar figure at the Cannes Film Festival, Rasoulof's previous works including Goodbye (2011), Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013), and A Man Of Integrity (2017) have all been showcased there, each film critically examining the impacts of authoritarian governance.

Due to potential backlash from the Iranian authorities, the identities of the cast and crew, along with the plot and script details of his latest film, remain confidential.

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