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Berlinale calls for release of Iranian director

July 9, 2022

Golden Bear-winning Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof was arrested after supporting protesters. He was unable to attend the Berlinale in 2020 as his passport had been confiscated.

Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alahmad in a split photo
The two directors were arrested after writing a letter in support of protests over a collapsed building in AbadanImage: eghtesadnews

Germany's Berlinale film festival on Saturday expressed its shock at the arrest in Iran of the director Mohammad Rasoulof, who won the festival's top prize in 2020.

Rasoulof was arrested on Friday, along with his colleague Mostafa Al-Ahmad, following a social media post. They were charged with incitement of the people.

"It is shocking that artists are imprisoned for their peaceful opposition to violence," said Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian, who manage the Berlinale.

"We demand that the Iranian authorities immediately release the two directors," they said.

Regime-critical director

Rasoulof won the Berlinale's Golden Bear award for best film in 2020 for his production "There is No Evil."His film deals with social issues in Iran and was considered a criticism of the theocratic regime.

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The director splits his time between Tehran and the German city of Hamburg. Despite being banned from working in the industry by the Iranian government, he has continued to make films.

His passport was confiscated in 2017, after his film "A Man of Integrity" made its premiere at the Cannes film festival in France. This meant that he was unable to leave Iran and travel to Berlin to accept his Golden Bear in 2020.

Protests over deadly building collapse

The social media post that got the two artists into trouble involved a joint letter calling on security forces to "lay down their arms" in response to the mass protests in the southwestern city of Abadan following the collapse of a building on May 23 that killed 43 people.

The protesters have called for those responsible for the collapse to be prosecuted. Police have clamped down on the dissent with tear gas, warning shots and arrests.

Public anger has also been stoked by rising prices, with some people blaming the failure of the regime to make a breakthrough on ending US sanctions by rejoining the 2015 nuclear agreement.

"In the midst of the heartbreaking incident in Abadan's Metropol, [the filmmakers] were involved in inciting unrest and disrupting the psychological security of society," Iranian state-run news agency IRNA said.

A prominent government critic and former minister, Mostafa Tajzadeh, was also arrested on Friday for similar charges.

ab/jcg (dpa, KNA, AFP, Reuters)