Mohammad Rasolouf escapes Iran

Move comes days after The Seed Of The Sacred Fig director was sentenced to jail and flogging

by Amber Wilkinson

Mohammad Rasoulof
Mohammad Rasoulof Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Iranian film director Mohammad Rasoulof has confirmed that he has escaped from Iran and is currently in an undisclosed location in Europe.

The news comes just days after the There Is No Evil director was sentenced to eight years in jail, flogging and the confiscation of his property in his homeland for "collusion against national security".

Writing on Instagram, the director outlined repression he and his filmmaking collaborators had faced in Iran and said: "With a heavy heart, I chose exile."

The director's latest film The Seed Of The Sacred Fig will screen in competition at the Cannes Film Festival and his departure from Iran raises the possibility that he may be present at its world premiere. The 52-year-old has been banned from leaving the country since 2017 and was previously jailed there, from July 22 to last February. Although he was released in a general amnesty, he was told a new case had been opened against him in relation to his Berlinale Golden Bear-winning There Is No Evil.

On Instagram, the director posted an image of a snowy mountainside with the statement:

“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.

"Of course, I strongly object to the unjust recent ruling against me that forces me into exile. However, the judicial system of the Islamic Republic has issued so many cruel and strange decisions that I do not feel it is my place to complain about my sentence. Death sentences are being executed as the Islamic Republic has targeted the lives of protesters and civil rights activists. It's hard to believe, but right now as I'm writing this, the young rapper, Toomaj Salehi is held in prison and has been sentenced to death. The scope and intensity of repression has reached a point of brutality where people expect news of another heinous government crime every day. The criminal machine of the Islamic Republic is continuously and systematically violating human rights.

"Before the Islamic Republic’s intelligence services were informed about my film’s production, a number of the actors managed to leave Iran. However, many of the actors and agents of the film are still in Iran and the intelligence system is pressuring them. They have been put through lengthy interrogations. The families of some of them were summoned and threatened. Due to their appearance in this movie, court cases were filed against them, and they were banned from leaving the country.

"They raided the office of the cinematographer, and all his work equipment was taken away. They also prevented the film's sound engineer from traveling to Canada. During the interrogations of the film crew, the intelligence forces asked them to pressure me to withdraw the film from the Cannes Festival. They were trying to convince the film crew that they were not aware of the film’s story and that they had been manipulated into participating in the project.

"Despite the vast limitations I and my colleagues and friends faced while making the film, I tried to achieve a cinematic narrative that is far from the narrative dominated by the censorship in the Islamic Republic, and closer to its reality. I have no doubt that restricting and suppressing freedom of expression cannot be justified even if it becomes a spur for creativity, but when there is no way, a way must be made.

"The world's cinema community must ensure effective support for the makers of such films. Freedom of speech should be defended, loudly and clearly. People who courageously and selflessly confront censorship instead of supporting it are reassured of the importance of their actions by the support of international film organisations. As I know from personal experience, it can be an invaluable help for them to continue their vital work.

"Many people helped to make this film. My thoughts are with all of them, and I fear for their safety and well-being.”

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