Jafar Panahi was arrested amidst new pressure on independent filmmakers and the closure of newspapers and imprisonment of journalists

On Monday night, a few minutes past 10:00 p.m., Jafar Panahi, his wife, and his daughter, along with close to 15 guests at their home were arrested, culminating months of obvious and hidden pressure on the independent filmmaker from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence.

Reacting to the news of the arrest, the Tehran Prosecutor told state news agencies: “His arrest is not because he is an artist and is not political, either. This individual is a suspect for some crimes. He and another individual have been arrested with orders from the case judge, and investigations on the matter are continuing.” Previously, Panahi had been arrested at Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery while laying flowers on the graves of some protesters killed during the post-election protests; he was released within a few hours.

In a news article, Tabnak web site says that Panahi’s arrest is because of a film he is making and the people arrested at his home, including his wife and daughter, were all involved in the production of the film. The conservative Web site states that the new film’s direction is anti-state. Panahi is an independent filmmaker who is known for his courage in expressing his views. He has made acclaimed films such as “The White Balloon,” “Circle,” and “Offside.”

In an interview with Kaleme news web site, his son has said that his father was making a new film project, which had all the necessary permits and it is not true that the film is anti-state. He told Kalame: “It has been said that my father’s house was used in filming an anti-state film before the elections, and this is completely false. My father has not made an anti-state film and he has not made any films about the recent events, either.” Panah Panahi stated that the film has not been completed, adding: “How can some of the people who are spreading these rumors make such statements before the film is even made or edited?”

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran requests that the Iranian Judiciary and Ministry of Information authorities provide transparent reasons for the arrest of this distinguished artist. The Campaign further expresses concern over the contradictory statements expressed about his arrest and his prior frequent summons to Ministry of Intelligence and threats of arrest extended to him in the past. It is a filmmaker’s profession to make films. Mr. Panahi’s arrest for making a film for which he has obtained the necessary licenses and arrests of his family members cannot be legally justified. Considering what “an informed source” has told the conservative Tabnak web site about the film’s content and the filmmaker’s intentions, the Campaign observes a whole new approach to harassment of independent artists, demonstrating a wish to severely control content production in different areas, starting with closure of newspapers and magazines and expanding to film production now.

A source close to Jafar Panahi told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran: “Over the past years, Ministry of Intelligence authorities have summoned Jafar Panahi to different investigation offices of the Ministry in different locations and have questioned him. In one of these meetings he was told “Just because you are a famous filmmaker, you mustn’t think that we are unable to arrest you. We can arrest you whenever we decide.” In some of these meetings, Panahi was told to avoid taking political sides and choosing subjects which show a dark image of Islamic Republic, and that in return for his agreement to this, they would allow his films to be shown and would give him licenses for making new films.

But Panahi told them during these visits that he is an independent filmmaker and his films are a reflection of the society and are not related to politics, that if the film is showing a problem, it is because that problem exists in the society. These meetings went on for a while and he not only never received permission to publicly show his films, a few months ago when he tried to leave the country he realized he had been barred from traveling abroad.”

After the Iranian elections, serving as Head of Jury for the Montreal Film Festival in Canada, Panahi put a green shawl around his neck and gave green shawls to other judges who used them in order to show solidarity with Iranian people, and this angered Iranian authorities.

During Panahi’s arrest, his home was searched and his personal and professional items were confiscated.