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Mostafa Tajzadeh, Iranian reformist politician, speaks during an interview in Tehran, Iran on June 15, 2021. © 2021 The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

(Beirut) – Iranian authorities’ recent arrests of high-profile critics are part of a fresh crackdown on peaceful dissent, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities arrested a reformist critic, Mostafa Tajzadeh, and two film directors, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad, on July 9, 2022, followed on July 11, by another film director, Jafar Panahi.

“Unable or unwilling to tackle the many severe challenges facing Iran, the government has resorted to its repressive reflex of arresting popular critics,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There is no reason to believe these recent arrests are anything but cynical moves to deter popular outrage at the government’s widespread failures.”

Agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization arrested Tajzadeh at 11:30 p.m. on July 9 at his home, his wife, Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, posted on her Instagram account. Fars News Agency, which is close to intelligence services in Iran, reported on July 9 that Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, was arrested on accusations of “acting against national security” and “publishing lies with the intent to disturb the public mind.”

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) accused Rasoulof and Al-Ahmad of collecting signatures for a support letter for protestors demanding accountability after a building collapsed in the city of Abadan in Khuzestan province on May 23 that resulted in more than 40 deaths.

The authorities have prosecuted Rasoulof, an award-winning filmmaker and outspoken critic, for his work on several occasions. Most recently in 2020 a court sentenced him to one year in prison and a two-year ban on making films on the charge of “propaganda against the system” for the content of his movies.

On July 11, Mehr News Agency, owned by the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization, reported that Panahi, another prominent director, had been arrested, after he went to the Tehran prosecutor’s office to inquire about Rasoulof’s detention. 

The authorities had previously arrested Tajzadeh on June 13, 2009, immediately following the disputed presidential elections that generated massive protests. A court sentenced him to six years in prison on the charge of “assembly and collusion to disrupt national security.” He was released in June 2016.

The recent arrests are part of a crackdown since May on peaceful dissent, amid the deterioration of economic conditions and what appears to be a deadlock in reviving the international community’s nuclear deal with Iran. The authorities have arrested, sentenced, and returned to prison over a dozen activists, including Narges Mohammadi, Saeed Madani, Keyvan Samimi, Mohammad Habibi, and Reza Shahabi. During the last week of June alone, the authorities arrested, sentenced, or summoned several journalists and activists, including Vida Rabani, Ahmad Reza Haeri, Amir Salar Davoudi, and Masoud Bastani.

The Iranian authorities should halt the crackdown on dissent and free people detained for their peaceful activism and criticism of the state, Human Rights Watch said.

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