On June 7, 2014, Iranian documentary filmmaker and women’s rights activist Mahnaz Mohammadi began serving her five-year prison sentence on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” and “propaganda against the state.”
In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran before going to Evin Prison, Mohammadi said that according to the court ruling, the principle alleged activity underpinning the national security-related charges against her was “making a film for BBC Persian network.”
“But I have never worked with the BBC, and none of my films have ever been broadcasted on this network. I have also been charged with having relations with Aljazeera English, German and American media, Radio France International, and Voice of America.”
“Another one of my charges is collaborating with [Iranian director] Rakhshan Bani Etemad in her documentary film, ‘We Are Half of the Iranian Population,’ attending the 2009 gatherings, going to memorial services for Sohrab Arabi and other victims of the 2009 events, and filming and photographing those ceremonies,” Mohammadi told the Campaign. The 2009 film by Rakhshan Bani Etemad focused on women’s demands on the threshold of the 2009 election.
Regardless of their veracity, the consideration of any of these activities as “offenses” represents the Iranian Judiciary’s flagrant and routine denial of the most basic tenants of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press.
Mahnaz Mohammadi was first arrested on July 30, 2009, when she, the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, and a group of other documentarians gathered at a memorial service for Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman killed during the violent crackdown on post-election protests in 2009, at her grave site. Mohammadi was released the following day. On June 26, 2011, she was arrested again by agents from the IRGC Intelligence Unit at her home, and was kept in IRGC’s Ward 2-A at Evin Prison for a month, after which she was released on bail on July 27, 2011. Mohammadi was put on trial in October 2012 and was sentenced to five years in prison, a sentence the appeals court later upheld in full.
“My interrogator wanted me to confess to receiving money from BBC Persian in return for working against the Islamic Republic of Iran, but because I had never done this and had no ties to the BBC at all, I didn’t confess. The gentlemen had prepared a scenario which I had to act out,” Mohammadi told the Campaign. “My interrogator told me ‘when we shape you up, the other documentary filmmakers will get the message.’ My interrogator said, ‘Just say that you got paid from the foreign networks for espionage and we will release you.’ He wanted me to confess and I angered him when I resisted. My interrogator swore that he is the one who determines the fate of my case, not the judge. He told me he could do anything he wanted,” added Mahnaz Mohammadi.
“My interrogator was unable to find any evidence against me. In the end, he referred to my documentary film, ‘Travelogue,’ which had received an award from [Iran’s] Truth Film Festival in 2006, and used it against me as evidence of my charges. It is stated in my file that this film ‘portrays a dark image’ of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but this film won an award from a film festival within this same regime!” said Mohammadi. “Judge Moghisseh told me in court, ‘You don’t deserve to breathe the air in the Islamic Republic of Iran.’ He told me to ‘go to your hypocrite friends abroad.’ Some lawyers told me this meant that they wanted me to leave the country,” said Mohammadi.