Iran Sentences Director Mohammad Rasoulof to 8 Years in Prison and Flogging Days Before His New Film Premieres at Cannes

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Just days before he’d premiere his new film “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, director Mohammad Rasoulof has been sentenced to eight years in prison and flogging in Iran. He’ll also be subjected to a fine and the confiscation of property. The filmmaker has run afoul of the theocratic government there for years, and there’s some indication the timing of this extremely harsh sentence is coercion to remove the film from the festival altogether.

It’s easy to see why the authoritarian regime might be scared of Rasoulof’s latest work. “The Seed of the Sacred Fig Tree” is literally about a judge for the Revolutionary Court in Tehran dealing with the fallout from the nationwide protests that have swept the country in recent years, and he particularly succumbs to paranoia when his gun disappears.

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The 51-year-old director has been hit with a severe sentence, before, however. Making features since 2002, Rasoulof was first arrested in 2010 for supposedly filming without a permit — an offense for which he received a six-year prison sentence, later knocked down to one year. After he returned from a trip abroad in 2017, the authorities in Iran confiscated his passport, forbidding him from leaving the country.

He’s received other sentences since, which were deferred due to the Covid pandemic, when Iran actually released over 50,000 prisoners to prevent the virus’s spread. When he received another charge, for allegedly undermining Iran’s national security because of making his 2017 film “A Man of Integrity,” which won the top prize in Un Certain Regard, he received an outpouring of support from other filmmakers, such as Asghar Farhadi and Jafar Panahi. Not allowed to leave Iran for years, a coalition of filmmakers petitioned the government to allow him to attend Cannes in 2023, where he had been invited to participate in the Un Certain Regard jury.

His next film, “There Is No Evil,” about capital punishment in Iran, won the Golden Bear at Berlin. He filmed the entire movie in secret.

According to Iranian journalist Mansour Jahani, this particularly harsh sentence against Rasoulof is expected to be “executed soon.” However, he is not yet in prison as of publication time.

On X, Rasoulof’s lawyer Babak Paknia wrote, as translated by Jahani, “According to the verdict issued by the 29th branch of the Islamic Revolution Court of Iran, Mohammad Rasoulof was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment (5 years applicable), flogging, fine, and confiscation of property. This ruling was confirmed in the 36th branch of the Court of Appeals and now the case has been sent to enforcement.”

In a follow-up tweet, Paknia added, “The main reason for issuing this sentence is signing statements and making films and documentaries, which in the court’s opinion, these actions are examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the country’s security.”

IndieWire has reached out to the Cannes Film Festival for comment.

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