(New York) - Iran's Judiciary should immediately clarify the reasons behind a raid on the home of film director Jafar Panahi as well as the legal basis for detaining him and two of his colleagues, Human Rights Watch said today.
According to accounts published on various websites, including the BBC, plainclothes security agents raided Panahi's home on the evening of March 1, 2010. They searched his home, confiscated some of his personal belongings, and then arrested Panahi, his wife, adult daughter, and 15 filmmakers and actors. Panahi's son said that Panahi and his guests had been convening a meeting about an upcoming film when intelligence agents arrived. Panahi and two others remain in detention.
"It has been almost two weeks since Panahi and his two colleagues were detained but the Iranian Judiciary has failed to provide any reason for continuing to lock them up," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The Iranian authorities should either charge these men or release them immediately."
Two days after authorities raided Panahi's home, they freed 15 of those arrested, including Panahi's wife, Tahereh Saidi, and his daughter, Solmaz Panahi. Family friends said that Jafar Panahi and two other filmmakers, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mehdi Pourmusa, are still being held in Evin Prison.
In a press statement hours after the arrests, Jafar Dolatabadi, Tehran's public prosecutor, declared that Panahi's arrest has "nothing to do with the fact that he is an artist, nor is it political in nature." Dolatabadi went on to say that Panahi had been arrested because he had committed "certain offenses," though neither Dolatabadi nor the Judiciary has explained the nature of these alleged offenses.
A friend of the family told Human Rights Watch that after more than a week in captivity, Panahi was finally allowed to call his family, but that until he made the call, "he was not aware that the family and his crew were released last week." He noted, however, that authorities had informed the family that they would not be allowed to visit Panahi at Evin until the end of the interrogation phase of the investigation. Another family friend told Human Rights Watch that Rasoulof and Pourmusa had also been allowed to contact their families.
On March 3, Panahi's son Panah told Kalame.com, a website considered close to opposition leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi, that his father and the others were arrested while working on a film for which they had obtained a government permit. Panahi's son was not home during the raid and subsequent arrests by security forces.
Following Iran's disputed June 12 election, Panahi openly expressed his support for the peaceful demands of protesters. On July 30, 2009, during a visit to the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in southern Tehran, Panahi was briefly detained by security forces along with several other Iranian filmmakers as they were laying flowers on the graves of demonstrators who had lost their lives as a result of state-sanctioned violence following the election.
In February, Iranian authorities prohibited Panahi from leaving Iran to attend the Berlin Film Festival. They failed to provide Panahi with any reason for their action.
"By targeting high-profile artists such as Jafar Panahi, the Iranian government is sending a clear message that it is willing to go after anyone it considers a threat," said Whitson. "If well-known figures like Panahi are not immune from arbitrary arrest and detention, ordinary Iranians will think twice before engaging in any activity that may seem critical of the government."
Panahi's arrest has drawn sharp criticism at home and abroad, including from several European governments, civil society groups and prominent actors. On March 8, a group of well-known Iranian producers, directors and actors visited Panahi's family to show their support and call for his and his colleagues' immediate release.
On the same day, authorities confiscated the passport of Simin Behbahani, a well-known poet and cultural critic, preventing her from traveling to Paris for an International Women's Day event. Again, authorities failed to provide any reason for their action.