The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran – Almost two week after the arrests of documentary filmmakers Naser Safarian, Mojtaba Mir Tahmaseb, Hadi Afarideh, Mohsen Shahrnazdar and Katayoun Shahabi by intelligence and security forces in Tehran, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran acquired an internal document from the Iran’s state broadcasting network, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), revealing the network’s role in the government persecution of independent filmmakers and film critics.
The document describes filmmakers’ participation in film festivals and artistic circles outside of the country as “underground cinema” and a cause for “political-security” concerns.
Various parts of this report indicate that the plan for the crackdown on and intimidation of the independent filmmaker community was initiated in September 2009 not in September 2011, when IRIB had laid the key “theoretical” groundwork for it.
The Young Journalist Club, a semi-official news source connected to IRIB, also provided information prior to the arrests that people would be arrested by Ministry of Intelligence forces, further highlighting the IRIB’s advanced role in the crackdown on independent directors and filmmakers.
The internal document of the Political Division of IRIB, prepared on 21 October 2009, was titled “Film Festivals: the soft war and underground Iranian films.” This document includes the same charges that were brought recently against the documentarians and originally announced last week by the Young Journalists Club, and then by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the Ministry of Intelligence.
The Campaign believes that IRIB’s operations are not only aligned with those of security-intelligence forces, but that the organization acts as the media arm of the Iranian security apparatus. As discussed below, in the past decade the IRIB has time and again, by providing a theoretical framework and justification for the arrests of members of various parts of society, such as these documentarians, or by producing the “Identity” or “Light” television programs, shown itself to be inseparable from the intelligence apparatus.
IRIB conducted similar research two years ago that provided justification allowing for the possibility of a crackdown by security and intelligence forces on political activists and civil society.
The IRIB’s Political Division’s Fabricated Case Against Independent Filmmakers
In this report, the Political Division of the IRIB emphasizes that a cause for concern is using “the magic of motion pictures, along with words and music, to impact human life.” The report underlines that cinema “is an important strategic tool through which one can instill beliefs and thoughts [in others].” Furthermore, the presence of Iranian filmmakers’ works in world film festivals including “Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Montreal, and the Oscars,” as well as the broadcasting of Iranian independent filmmakers’ films on foreign TV networks, has become a serious worry.
In addition, the report refers to “the BBC Persian television network’s attention” to the works of Iranian filmmakers as a “political action,” “animosity,” and “hostility” towards the Islamic Republic of Iran, stating “some foreign networks including BBC Persian and MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Center) whose clear hostility towards the Islamic Republic has become known by all … have also fallen into step with the political goals of these festivals and thus notice such underground Iranian films. For example, Hana Makhmalbaf’s film, “Green Days” was broadcast and reviewed on 11 September 2009 and on 15 September 2009 on [BBC Persian’s] program ‘Ekran.’”
Another part of the 21 October 2009 report calls independent filmmakers a part of Iran’s “underground cinema” and alleges that, “nowadays Iranian cinema is witness to the production of underground films that are produced outside of the official system and without government supervision. Filmmakers don’t get official permission to get their films produced and create them secretly and find possibilities of showing the film internationally and by doing so, attract foreign capital; to the point where we can now discuss the formation of an underground cinema in Iran. One of the most important characteristics of this Iranian cinema is its lack of regard for official criteria and rules.”
Expressing concern about the formation of a cinema outside of government supervision, the IRIB Political Division’s report emphasized that “underground cinema, like underground music, literature and other unofficial forms of art and information in Iran, is formed parallel to the production of official films with government ties and provokes the interest of international film festivals.”
The 21 October 2009 report also accuses foreign film festivals that welcome independent and non-governmental films of acting “politically” and causing “political-security” concerns. The report designates independent Iranian filmmakers as “problematic” directors with “[prior] political-security files” and claims that, “more and more, film festivals that appear cultural and artistic have polluted angles to their politics, with one-sided selections, accept underground films that were produced without a license or viewing and through an illegal process … [these filmmakers] some of whom have political-security files, and in some cases have provided a dark image of the country.”
This report accuses independent Iranian filmmakers of “profit seeking under the cover of culture” and alleges that because they lack the “ability to communicate with their fellow citizens, they are targeted and in order to compensate for their weaknesses and interests they associate with the politics of cultural imperialism…”
The report charges Iranian filmmakers with presenting “a dark and disorganized picture of the economic and social conditions of Iran,” “presenting a dark image of the Islamic Revolution,” and claims that “the predominance of political views in international film festivals” and “the focus on underground works with political subjects” is the main reason why film festivals welcome these films.
According to the report, the IRIB’s political division claimed that, because of the rise of independent Iranian films in international film festivals in the past few years, film festivals have rejected “films introduced by the Iranian government organizations.” Through actions the report describes as “un-artistic” and “more political,” the “European film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, etc have increased their attention to unofficial Iranian film in such a way that this year (2009), the Venice Film Festival awarded a prize to an Iranian-American filmmaker.”
The report comes in the wake of independent Iranian films succeeding official Iranian films in international film festivals. The report mentions examples of these films, such as Hana Makhmalbaf’s “Green Days,” Bahman Ghobadi’s “No One Knows About Persian Cats,” Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” and Shirin Neshat’s “Women Without Men.” The report describes this change as “the continuation of economic and political sanctions” with the goal of “cultural and political isolation” of the Islamic Republic.
The report also stated that since 2005-2006 the “internal problems of Iranian cinema” have led to the decrease of official Iranian cinema and the increase of underground Iranian cinema in international film festivals. Among the problems mentioned are: “the falling behind of Iranian cinema today from the new trends of independent and cultural cinema of the world,” “lack of government or private producers for making independent and more culturally-oriented films and a general lack of support for such films,” “a decrease in the reciprocal presence of other countries’ cinemas in Iran,” “increasing limitations and pressures on Iranian directors and artists,” “censoring and banning critical films,” and “constricting the filmmaking industry for critical filmmakers.”
A similar report, also acquired by the Campaign, indicates that the Political Division of IRIB regards the banning of the “Iranian Society of Film Critics and Writers” in 2003-2004 in 2003-2004 and detaining several of its members as a positive action.
The report also indicates that another society with the same name, several members of whom are part of the ruling faction, began its activities in 2003-2004.
The IRIB operates under the oversight of the Supreme Leader when it comes to confronting Iran’s civil and cultural activists. These activities started in the mid 1990s, when the television series “Identity” was broadcast as a joint production of Saeed Emami, then-vice president of security at the Ministry of Intelligence and a principle operative for the serial murders of dissidents, and Hossein Shariatmadari, a former member of the IRGC’s Policial Office and the current representative of Ayatollah Khamenei at Keyhan Newspaper. Other programs such as “The Light” and “The Berlin Conference” were also aired as a part of this program.
This report further reflects on IRIB’s successful role, in conjunction with intelligence and security institutions, in the widespread arrests and crackdown on writers and film critics and control of cultural organizations, especially cinema-related institutions. This role began in 2001 and has accelerated since the beginning of the post-election protests. The September 2011 detention of five filmmakers is a complete and documented case of actions planned and implemented in the 2009 IRIB report.