(NEW YORK) – PEN America today called for the immediate release of Iranian filmmaker Saeed Roustayi after he was sentenced to six months in prison for screening his award-winning film Leila’s Brothers at the Cannes Film Festival. PEN America said the sentence is a calculated effort to “asphyxiate” vibrant ideas and silence dissenting and creative voices. 

“The Iranian regime strategically wields the term ‘propaganda’ as a potent tool, skillfully harnessing it to asphyxiate the vibrant exchange of ideas within society. This calculated manipulation transforms the atmosphere for the Iranian artistic community into one of trepidation and restraint, casting a pervasive shadow over creative voices. The regime’s tactics are aimed at silencing not just a few dissenting voices, but at suppressing the creative minds yearning to articulate their perspectives. We demand Saeed Roustayi’s immediate release and for all charges to be dropped against him,” said Julie Trebault, director of Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. 

In addition to the prison sentence, Roustayi has been barred from all cinematic activities for five years and will be required to take a filmmaking course to “preserve national and moral interests.”

He will serve about nine days in prison while the remainder of the sentence will be suspended over five years. 

Leila’s Brothers follows the 40 year old woman character as she devises a business plan to lift her four brothers and elderly parents out of poverty in a poor economy, due to U.S. sanctions. The Cinema Organization of Iran banned the film for “violating and disobeying regulations,” but it received international acclaim and earned a special mention for the ARRI/OSRAM Award for Best International Film. 

Roustayi’s sentencing is the latest in a string of attacks against artistic freedom. Last month Iranian actresses, Leila Bolukat and Afsaneh Bayegan, were barred from acting for not wearing the mandatory hijab in public. 

Iran is one of the most inhospitable places in the world for free expression, and the largest jailer of writers globally in PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, which provides an annual count of jailed writers worldwide. In 2022, Iran was second after China among the world’s worst jailers of writers, with the Iranian government having imprisoned almost three times the number of writers from the previous year. More about PEN America’s work on Iran can be found here.

About the Artists at Risk Connection

The Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) is a project of PEN America dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the networks and organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.

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, [email protected], 201-247-5057