Eighteen Iranian filmmakers who criticized the recent 25-year cooperation agreement between Iran and China have been told to withdraw their signatures or face blacklisting.
On April 4, the 18 industry figures had published an open letter condemning the deal, stating that it was against the national interest and the contents were being “kept hidden from the Iranian people”.
On Wednesday, April 7, filmmaker and co-signatory Mohammad Rasoulov announced on Twitter on that a reporter from Mashreq News, a website affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, had contacted most of the signatories to warn them that if they failed to “repent” they would be banned from working by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and “will soon be arrested”.
It is unclear precisely how the foreign minister, who is part of the executive branch, would be able to enact a ban on filmmakers or enforce their arrest.
Among the other signatories of the statement were Jafar Panahi, Majid Barzegar, Kiomars Pourahmad, Abdolreza Kahani, Ali Mosafa, Nasser Saffarian, Mohammad Shirvani, Khosrow Masoumi, Mahvash Sheikha ol-Eslami, Alireza Raeisian, Mostafa Ale-Ahmad, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, and Azizollah Hamidnejad.
Their statement read: "We, the filmmakers, aware of the four decades of the Islamic Republic's secretive policies, condemn the signed 25-year strategic cooperation agreement between Iran and China, whose content is hidden from the Iranian people, and consider it against the national interest and holding no legitimacy."
Shortly after it was published, the signatories also came under attack from IRGC-affiliated news agencies including Mashreq and Tasnim. The latter published an article entitled “What’s behind the filmmakers' statement against the Iran-China strategic agreement” which called the filmmakers "activists of sedition", "statement-makers" and "foreign art infantry".
The author also declared that the filmmakers should be punished, writing: “It is not permissible for regulators to be patient in the face of such activity, and to not deal with this core of anti-security statement writers who try to disturb trust in government officials."
Tasnim reported on April 4 that some of the signatories had already been contacted and interviewed by Persian-language media overseas, holding this up as evidence that their statement was part of a propaganda drive.
"Follow-ups and telephone conversations with some of the signatories of this statement,” the Tasnim article claimed, “show that anti-revolutionary networks have tried to distort the facts in order to place this group of filmmakers among the opponents of the Iran-China agreement."
Filmmakers Have Form in Pushing Back Against the Regime
Over the years, Iranian filmmakers and artists have issued public statements against the actions of the regime on several occasions, sometimes in conjunction with political and civil activists. Of course, this usually costs them dear.
Jafar Panahi, one of the signatories of the Iran-China critique, whom Mashreq News called a "security convict", was arrested during the post-2009 presidential election protests and later charged with "conspiracy against national security" and "propaganda against the regime." He was sentenced to six years in prison, a 20-year ban from filmmaking, a 20-year ban from traveling abroad, and a 20-year ban from giving interviews to the media.
Mohammad Rasoulov, another outspoken filmmaker, was sentenced in June 2019 to one year in prison and a two-year ban from leaving the country on charges of "propaganda against the regime." Still another, Abdol Reza Kahani, was denied a license for most of his films and finally moved to France a few years ago.
The 25-year Iran-China cooperation agreement was signed between the Chinese and Iranian foreign ministers on March 27 this year. The content of the document, which was at least five years in the making, has still not been disclosed to Iranians.
News of the underhand move caused uproar in Iranian communities inside the country and overseas. The only official response they have so far received was an abrupt appearance by Foreign Minister Zarif on Clubhouse last week, in which he refused to take questions from unfriendly journalists and offered no further useful detail, claiming that China had not given the Iranian government permission to share the text with the people.