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Iranian Director Mohammad Rasoulof ‘Chose Exile’ in Europe After Sentencing


Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof has been sentenced by the Islamic Revolutionary Court to eight years in prison, flogging, and confiscation of property. The ruling came down just days before the start of the Cannes Film Festival, where Rasoulof is premiering his newest film in competition, The Seed of the Sacred Fig. After learning that the prison sentence was going to be implemented on short notice, Rasoulof has managed to leave Iran, and he is currently staying in an undisclosed location in Europe. Below, the latest on his “exile.”

Rasoulof sentenced to jail, flogging, confiscation of property

May 8, 2024: Rasoulof’s lawyer, Babak Paknia, posted on X that the director was sentenced to eight years in prison, flogging, and confiscation of property for (translated from Persian) “signing statements and making films and documentaries,” which the court sees as “examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the country’s security.”

This ruling is the latest act of persecution by the Iranian government against Rasoulof, who has been arrested numerous times for his films’ alleged “propaganda against the system.” His work deals with topics including capital punishment and the persecution of writers. One such film, A Man of Integrity, won Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2017. Authorities confiscated Rasoulof’s passport and banned him from leaving the country that same year. In 2023, he was invited to serve on the Un Certain Regard jury but was banned from traveling abroad yet again on charges of “propaganda against the regime” for his 2022 posts criticizing state violence against protesters. Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mostafa al-Ahmad were also jailed during this wave of crackdowns against dissenting speech. At the time, the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk issued a statement directed at the Iranian government, titled “Let Mohammad Rasoulof Go!” Panahi was released from prison in March 2023 after going on hunger strike. Rasoulof is not yet in prison following this latest sentencing.

Rasoulof forced into exile in Europe

May 13, 2024: Rasoulof shares a statement dated May 12 revealing that he made it to Europe “a few days ago,” after his sentence was confirmed in the court of appeal. He managed to leave the country despite the Islamic Republic confiscating his passport in September 2017 and writes that he predicted his eight-year sentence would be worsened following the news of his new film’s release at Cannes. “I didn’t have much time to make a decision,” it reads. “I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile.”

He writes that he does not “feel it is my place to complain about my sentence” in light of “so many cruel and strange decisions” issued by the Islamic Republic. He cites the imprisoned rapper Toomaj Salehi, who the Iranian regime has sentenced to death. “The scope and intensity of repression has reached a point of brutality where people expect news of another heinous government crime every day,” he continues. “The criminal machine of the Islamic Republic is continuously and systematically violating human rights.”

According to Rasoulof, a number of actors who worked on The Seed of the Sacred Fig left Iran prior to Islamic Republic intelligence learning about the film, but many of the cast and crew who remained in Iran are now being persecuted and pressured by authorities. Interrogators have pressured members of the film crew to try to convince Rasoulof to withdraw the film from Cannes. “They were trying to convince the film crew that they were not aware of the film’s story and that they had been manipulated into participating in the project,” he added. The statement continues:

“Despite the vast limitations I and my colleagues and friends faced while making the film, I tried to achieve a cinematic narrative that is far from the narrative dominated by the censorship in the Islamic Republic, and closer to its reality. I have no doubt that restricting and suppressing freedom of expression cannot be justified even if it becomes a spur for creativity, but when there is no way, a way must be made.


The world’s cinema community must ensure effective support for the makers of such films. Freedom of speech should be defended, loudly and clearly. People who courageously and selflessly confront censorship instead of supporting it are reassured of the importance of their actions by the support of international film organizations. As I know from personal experience, it can be an invaluable help for them to continue their vital work.


Many people helped to make this film. My thoughts are with all of them, and I fear for their safety and well-being.”

Additionally, the CEO of the film’s French producing partner, Parallel45, Jean-Christophe Simon, says they hope that Rasoulof will now be able to attend the Cannes premiere of The Seed of the Sacred Fig, “in spite of all attempts to prevent him from being there in person.”


  • 25 Essential Iranian Films You Can Stream Right Now
  • Jafar Panahi Has Been Released From Prison Following Hunger Strike


Rebecca Alter , 2024-05-13 18:25:00

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