Release of Iranian actress highlights plight of detained filmmakers

The release of an Iranian actress sentenced to 90 lashes and a year in prison after appearing in a banned film highlights the need to release other detained filmmakers in Iran, Amnesty International said today.Marzieh Vafamehr, who was arrested after starring in the Australian film My Tehran for Sale was released Monday night. One scene in the film shows her without the head-covering Iranian women are required to wear, while she appears to drink alcohol in another. The actress seems to have been released after an appeal court reduced her imprisonment to three months and overturned the flogging sentence.“In recent months an increasing number of filmmakers and actors have been targeted for persecution in Iran. While the release of Marzieh Vafamehr is a welcome development, it is deeply worrying that three filmmakers are still being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa“Their continued detention illustrates the Iranian authorities’ desperate efforts to stifle any form of dissent. These people have done nothing except sell their documentaries to a foreign broadcaster or make a film about a banned director.. They should be released immediately and unconditionally,” she added.Three documentary directors – Hadi Afarideh, Naser Saffarian, Mohsen Shahrnazdar ; and  producer and distributor, Katayoun Shahabi were arrested on 17 September 2011.  All four are believed to have sold their films to a variety of broadcasters, including the BBC’s Persian service.  The Iranian authorities say filmmakers cannot cooperate with foreign satellite channels without permission. Cooperating with the BBC or the Voice of America is particularly controversial. Police chief Esma’il Ahmadi-Moghaddam recently said it was tantamount to working with enemy security services and will be treated “seriously”.Three of the group – Hadi Afarideh, Naser Saffarian and Mohsen Shahrnazdar- have since been released on bail, but Katayoun Shahabi is thought to remain in custody.Another film director, Mehran Zinatbakhsh, is also believed to have been arrested in September and is being held in Evin Prison. The exact charges against him are not known.Documentary director Mojtaba Mir Tahmasb also remains in prison after being arrested on 17 September 2011. He was jailed after making the documentary This is Not a Film,  about the life of banned film director Ja’far Panahi. Panahi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in December 2010 after being convicted of “acting against state security”” and “propaganda against the system”. He was also banned from travelling abroad and talking to domestic or international media, Another internationally celebrated director, Mohammad Rasoulof was given a six year jail term at the same time as Panahi after being convicted on similar charges. He later had his sentence reduced to one year on appeal. A travel ban against him was lifted in May this year. Both Panahi and Rasoulof remain free awaiting the implementation of their sentences.Amnesty International considers all these filmmakers to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression in their work.The right to freedom of expression includes the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media”.