Numerous film organizations, festivals, and freedom of speech NGOs have joined forces to advocate for the immediate dismissal of all charges against directors Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha. Additionally, they call for the lifting of the travel ban imposed on the filmmakers by Iranian authorities. Notable signatories include the Berlinale, the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk, and PEN America. Moghadam and Sanaeeha, acclaimed for their film “Ballad Of A White Cow,” have found themselves entangled in the web of Iran’s hardline Islamist regime due to their upcoming project, “My Favourite Cake.” The film aims to shed light on the restricted lives of women in a country with limited women’s rights. To their detriment, their passports were confiscated at Tehran airport, and they were informed of an impending trial.
This incident is just one among many recent bans and arrests targeting artists, writers, and cultural workers in Iran. Over the past couple of years, the Iranian government has intensified its crackdown on dissent, even before the Woman, Life, Freedom protests gained momentum following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2022. The sad reality is that Iran is ranked second on the PEN America 2022 Freedom To Write Index’s list of top 10 jailers of writers, with female writers facing the brunt of the oppression. Highlighting other cases of mistreatment, the letter references director Saeed Roustayi’s imprisonment for six months for showcasing his film at Cannes without permission, journalist Narges Mohammadi’s incarceration, and rapper Saman Yasin’s claims of torture while in jail.
The open letter emphasizes the crucial role that filmmakers, writers, and artists play in building vibrant societies. These individuals serve as architects of communication and collaboration, inspiring citizens to envision better futures based on new possibilities and ideas. Rather than stifling their voices, governments should recognize and celebrate artists for their invaluable contributions to society.
Maryam Moghadam, who holds both Iranian and Swedish citizenship, has a history of facing restrictions. She was previously banned from traveling for two years following her lead role in Jafar Panahi’s clandestinely shot film “Closed Curtain” in 2013. In 2019, she was fired from a prominent Iranian film production at the behest of the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Moghadam responded to the unjust action with an open letter condemning the decision. Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moghadam were also sued by the Revolutionary Guards for their film “Ballad of A White Cow,” which uncovers the tragic tale of a woman who discovers her executed husband’s innocence. The filmmakers were charged with “propaganda against the regime and acting against national security,” although they were eventually acquitted, the film remains banned in Iran to this day.
The plea to drop all charges against Moghadam and Sanaeeha and lift the travel ban is not just about these filmmakers; it symbolizes a pressing need for change. The Iranian authorities must cease the relentless persecution of filmmakers, writers, artists, musicians, and all those who courageously express the aspirations, humanity, and dreams of the Iranian people. This signifies an opportunity for the country to embrace change and foster an environment where creative voices can flourish. The international film community and freedom of speech organizations stand united in their call for justice and exertion of pressure on Iran to uphold the rights and freedoms of its citizens. It is time for the world to recognize the transformative power of art and advocate for a society that celebrates and protects creativity.