The award-winning director Jafar Panahi has become the third Iranian film-maker to be arrested in less than a week, the Mehr news agency has said, as he visited prosecutors over the detentions last week of Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad.
Panahi, 62, has won a slew of awards at international festivals for films that have critiqued modern Iran, including the top prize in Berlin for Taxi in 2015, and best screenplay at Cannes for 3 Faces in 2018.
He was previously arrested with Rasoulof after anti-government protests in 2010 and sentenced to six years in jail, after which neither were permitted to leave the country.
“Jafar Panahi has been arrested today when he went to the prosecutor’s office to follow up on the situation of another film-maker, Mohammad Rasoulof,” Mehr reported.
The state news agency IRNA reported on Friday that Rasoulof and Aleahmad had been arrested in connection with protests relating to the deaths of 43 people on 23 May in the collapse of the 10-storey Metropol building in the city of Abadan.
The demonstrators had demanded that “incompetent officials” responsible for the tragedy be prosecuted and punished. Many faced teargas, warning shots and arrests by the police.
A group of Iranian film-makers led by Rasoulof published an open letter calling on the security forces to “lay down their arms” in the face of outrage over the “corruption, theft, inefficiency and repression” surrounding the Abadan collapse.
Iranian authorities accused the two of links with opposition groups based outside the country and plotting to undermine state security, IRNA said. “In the midst of the heartbreaking incident in Abadan’s Metropol, [the film-makers] were involved in inciting unrest and disrupting the psychological security of society,” it said.
The report did not say when the two were arrested. At least 70 Iranian film-makers and film industry workers signed the appeal.
The Metropol collapse dredged up memories of past national disasters and shone a spotlight on shoddy construction practices, government corruption and negligence in Iran.
Rasoulof won the Berlin film festival’s top prize in 2020 for his film There Is No Evil. It tells four stories loosely connected to the themes of the death penalty in Iran and personal freedoms under tyranny.
Shortly after receiving the award he was sentenced to a year in prison for three films he made that authorities found to be “propaganda against the system”. His lawyer appealed against the sentence. Rasoulof was banned from making films and travelling abroad.
In 2011, Rasoulof and Panahi were arrested for filming without a permit. The pair received six years in prison and were banned from film-making for 20 years on charges that included “making propaganda” against the ruling system, but Rasoulof’s sentence was reduced on appeal to a year.
The same year, Rasoulof’s film Goodbye won a prize at Cannes but he was not allowed to travel to France to accept it.
Cannes organisers said in a statement on Monday that they “strongly condemn the arrests as well as the wave of repression evidently under way in Iran against its artists”, and they called for their immediate release.
The Berlin film festival last week protested against the arrests of Rasoulof and Aleahmad. “It’s shocking that artists are taken into custody because of their peaceful endeavours against violence,” said the festival directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian.