Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof sentenced to eight years in prison

Court convicts prominent director of 'crimes against national security'

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, seen here during the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, has another film screening at the festival this year. AFP
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A prominent Iranian film director has been sentenced to eight years in prison and flogging for national security crimes.

A court ruled that Mohammad Rasoulof's films and documentaries showed “examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the security of the country", lawyer Babak Paknia said on X.

The court also imposed an unspecified fine and ordered the confiscation of Rasoulof’s property, Mr Paknia said.

The director was sentenced to eight years in prison but will only serve five, he said.

Under Iranian law, jail sentences run concurrently.

Official media in Iran have yet to publish the verdict.

Rasoulof’s film The Seed of the Sacred Fig is due to be shown in the main competition at Cannes Film Festival this month.

On April 30, Mr Paknia said Iranian authorities had summoned some of the film's production crew for questioning. Actors had also been questioned and barred from leaving Iran.

Mr Paknia that they were under pressure to have it withdrawn from Cannes.

In his early 50s, Rasoulof won the 2020 Berlin Film Festival’s top prize for There Is No Evil, a film taking a stand against capital punishment.

Subsequently, Rasoulof was one of the artists who signed a letter in 2022 that urged the government to "put down the gun". The letter came in response to a crackdown on protests against a building collapse that killed at least 29 people in the south-western city of Abadan. Since then, many of those associated with the letter have been questioned and arrested.

“This judgment is issued due to [Rasoulof] signing statements in support of the Iranian people,” Mr Paknia told the Associated Press. The lawyer said the court had found those statements, along with Rasoulof's tweets and social activities, to be cases of "action against national security".

The ruling is being met with significant criticism online. Kino Lorber, a New York-based film company that has distributed two of Rasoulof’s films, condemned the court ruling.

“We are horrified by the news of Mohammad Rasoulof's cruel sentencing at the hands of Iran’s hardline government,” the company posted on X. “We are proud to have distributed his films There Is No Evil and Manuscripts Don't Burn, both of which demonstrate incredible artistic bravery.

“We strongly denounce all acts of censorship and join the international film community in support of Rasoulof, his collaborators and all Iranian artists making crucial work under oppressive circumstances.”

Appearances at Cannes have in recent years been increasingly contentious for Iranian directors and actors.

Prominent director Saeed Roustaee was sentenced to six months in prison for the screening of his film Leila’s Brothers at the 2022 festival.

Iranian authorities said at the time that it had been shown without authorisation.

With reporting from AP

Updated: May 09, 2024, 1:14 PM