(New York, NY)—In response to news that several Iranian filmmakers—including Mohammad Rasoulof and Jafar Panahi—have been arrested after publicly calling for the Iranian government to end violence against protesters, PEN America released the following statement:

“The Iranian government’s decision to detain Mohammad Rasoulof, Mostafa Aleahmad, and Jafar Panahi marks a brazen violation of their human right to free expression and speech,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “This is another egregious example of the Iranian government’s abuse of power by repeatedly arresting and detaining anyone who criticizes them or tries to exercise their right to free speech. We strongly condemn the detentions of Rasoulof, Aleahmad, and Pahani and call on the Iranian authorities to release them immediately, along with other imprisoned writers and public intellectuals in Iran.”

Iran is the fourth-worst jailer of writers and public intellectuals in the world, holding at least 21 writers in detention or prison for their work during 2021, according to data collected in Pen America’s the Freedom to Write Index. PEN America honored Iranian writers Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bajan with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award in 2021, recognizing their courageous commitment to free expression in the face of great risk and imprisonment.

Filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad were arrested on July 8 for “inciting unrest” and “disrupting the psychological safety of society,” according to the state news agency IRNA. Rasoulof and Aleahmad had recently organized a group of Iranian filmmakers to publish an open letter condemning the government’s use of violence against protesters and urging authorities to “lay down their arms.” The IRNA report also referenced Rasoulof’s filmmaking as evidence of his purported history of “undermining” state security. A Dubai-based Iranian writer and producer Kaveh Farnam, who has worked extensively with Rasoulof, told Screen Daily that Rasoulof’s previous films and opinions may have also contributed to his arrest. On July 11, filmmaker Jafar Panahi was arrested outside of Evin Prison in Tehran after attempting to get information about Rasoulof’s detention.

Rasoulof and Panahi have both been detained for their work in the past and are barred by the Iranian government from making films and from leaving the country.

Mohammad Rasoulof is a director and screenwriter whose recent film  There Is No Evil, was awarded with the 2020 Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival, but Rasoulof is barred from traveling outside Iran and was unable to accept the award in person. The film examines the impact of the death penalty in Iran. In February 2022, Rasoulof released Intentional Crime, which examines the death in custody of Baktash Abtin, a prominent poet, filmmaker, who was the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honoree.

A director and screenwriter prominent in the Iranian New Wave film movement, Jafar Panahi’s works include Taxi, a documentary-style film from the point of view of a Tehran taxi driver for which he won the 2015 Golden Bear for Best Film, and This is Not a Film, which Panahi made while under house arrest. Mostafa Aleahmad directed and screenwrote Poosteh.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057