We, the undersigned organizations, call on the Iranian authorities to immediately drop all charges against film directors Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moghadam, who holds both Iranian and Swedish citizenship, and to lift their current travel ban. Moghadam was previously banned from traveling for two years after playing the lead role in Jafar Panahi’s 2013 clandestinely shot film Closed Curtain.

As we honor Iranian writer and activist Narges Mohammadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia, we fervently urge the Iranian authorities to cease the relentless persecution of filmmakers, writers, artists, musicians, and all who courageously articulate the aspirations, humanity, and dreams of the Iranian people. Now is the time for change, starting with Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moghadam, whose latest film, My Favourite Cake, is believed to have angered the country’s hard-line Islamist authorities, although details of the charges have yet to be communicated.

Sanaeeha and Moghadam gained international recognition for their film, Ballad of a White Cow, which tells the story of an Iranian woman (portrayed by Moghadam) grappling with the revelation that her husband was wrongly executed for a crime he did not commit. Despite receiving prestigious awards, including an Audience Award at the Berlinale 2021, where it was selected in Competition, Best Film at the 2022 Der Neue Heimatfilm Festival, Pilar Miro award for best director at the Valladolid Film Festival, and a Special Mention at the Zurich Film Festival, the filmmakers were charged in Iran with “propaganda against the regime and acting against national security.” Although eventually acquitted, their impactful film remains prohibited within the country.

Their new film, My Favourite Cake, reportedly explores the “life behind closed doors of an aging woman who dares to live her desires in a country where women’s rights are heavily restricted.” Sanaeeha and Moghadam were at Tehran airport en route to Paris for post-production on the film when their passports were confiscated. Reports indicate that Iranian authorities have seized all material associated with the film. The filmmakers are set to be tried by a judge linked to Iran’s notorious Evin prison. 

This is only the latest in a succession of bans and arrests involving artists, writers, and other cultural workers as part of a serious crackdown on dissent prompted by the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement that arose following the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini in September 2022. Because their work necessitates engagement in the public sphere, artists in repressive societies often face a heightened risk of arrest. Iran ranked second on the PEN America 2022 Freedom to Write Index list of the top 10 jailers of writers. Additionally, it topped the list of the world’s leading jailers of female writers. 

We believe that the people of Iran, along with citizens around the world, should have the opportunity to create and watch works, such as Sanaeeha and Moghadam’s films as well as those of Saeed Roustayi, read Narges Mohammadi’s reporting, listen to the music of Saman Yasin, and savor the performances of gifted Iranian actors, even if they don’t agree to wear headscarves. 

Filmmakers, writers, and other artists play an essential role in establishing free and vibrant societies, serving as architects of communication and collaboration and inspiring citizens to dream of better futures based on new possibilities and ideas. Instead of stifling their voices, governments must elevate and celebrate artists for their invaluable contributions to society. 

Art and artists must be protected! Culture should never be considered a luxury; rather it is a vital ingredient for a healthy, productive, and sustainable society. 


ACT Human Rights Film Festival

Addis International Film Festival (AIFF)

Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), PEN America

Berlin International Film Festival, Germany

Céline Roustan, Independent Film Programmer

Censurados Film Festival (Perú)

DerHumALC Multimedia Institute – Human Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean

Dorota Lech, Toronto International Film Festival

Exiled Writers Ink

Festival de Cine INSTAR

Festival del Cinema dei Diritti Umani di Napoli, Italia

FIFDH, International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, Geneva

Finn Daniels-Yeomans, Researcher, Brighton

Humberto Mancilla, filmmaker

Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt (INSTAR)

International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk

International Human Rights Art Movement, NYC

International Human Rights Film Festival (FICDH), Argentina

José Luis Aparicio, Cuban filmmaker and artistic director of the INSTAR Film Festival

Lydia Honeybone, Director, Glasgow Artists’ Moving Image Studios, Glasgow

Melissa Rees Herman, Filmmaker, Community Organizer

Movies that Matter, The Hague/Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Muestra de Cine Internacional Memoria Verdad Justicia, Uli Stelzner

Pukañawi Festival, Bolivia

Sandra Whipham, on behalf of the co-directors of Doc Society

Sherry Millner Professor/filmmaker, NYC

Simon Tyszko, fine artist, filmmaker, broadcaster, London

Steve Moss, Liverpool Radical Film Festival

Susan Martin-Márquez, Cinema Studies Program, Rutgers University

Tania Bruguera

Dr. Steve Presence, Associate Professor of Film Studies, UWE Bristol; co-convenor of the Radical Film Network