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Iranian celebrities risk arrest, travel bans for supporting protests

Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Mani Haghighi’s noir thriller, Subtraction, will be screened at the prestigious London Film Festival on Saturday.

But on Friday, he joined a growing list of Iranian celebrities, including artists, filmmakers and athletes who have been arrested or placed under travel ban for supporting a nationwide uprising that, despite a bloody crackdown, shows no signs of abating as its second month. approaches.

“Perhaps the authorities thought that by keeping me here they could keep a closer eye on me, perhaps to threaten and silence me?” Haghighi said in a video on his Instagram page on Friday. “Well, the fact that I’m talking to you right now in this video kind of undermines that plan.”

The women- and youth-led protests in Iran have quickly become one of the biggest challenges in years for the iron grip of Iran’s church leaders.

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The protests began in mid-September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while he was in police custody for an alleged clothing violation, sparking outrage. Amini’s death and the authorities’ efforts to cover it up quickly became a symbol of decades of political repression, poverty, gender discrimination and state-sponsored violence, among other grievances that sparked weeks of unrest.

Iran’s leaders blamed the protests on foreign “instigators” who launched internet and communications outages and a far-reaching and violent crackdown that included raids on schools, live fire to disperse protests and mass arrests. At least 144 people have been killed, including 23 minors, according to Amnesty International.

Despite the measures, striking videos of women defiantly taking off their mandatory veils and protesters standing up to security forces have gained worldwide support. Oscar-winning actresses and European politicians have posted videos of them cutting their hair in solidarity.

Some Iranians and human rights groups have called for a stronger and more coordinated response from Washington, the European Union and the United Nations.

“Without urgent action at the international level, this will only continue and get worse,” said Raha Bahreini, an Iran researcher at Amnesty International in London.

The Biden administration expressed early support for the protests and condemned Tehran’s violent crackdown.

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“Today I met with civil society partners to discuss what else the US can do to support the people of Iran, especially its brave women and girls,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted friday along with a photo of the meeting.

Iranian actress and activist Nazanin Boniadi, who attended the meeting, also met Vice President Harris on Friday. The two discussed ways to bolster US support, “including by making it easier for Iranians to access the internet, and holding Iranian officials accountable for their brutality and abuse,” according to a readout from the meeting.

But for those who speak out in Iran, even Iranians with international influence, the risks continue to grow.

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Haghighi said authorities prevented him from boarding on Friday and confiscated his passport.

They gave him no explanation for “this utterly rude behavior,” he said in his video statement.

Haghighi said his ban came after he posted on Instagram, “criticizing Iran’s mandatory hijab laws, the crackdown on the young people who are protesting them, and so many other instances of injustice in their lives.”

Prominent Iranian actor Hamid Farrokhnezhad said in an Instagram story on Oct. 9 that he had been summoned for hours of interrogation and that he was not allowed to travel.

“I was subpoenaed twice, interrogated for ten hours and banned from leaving the country to prove me wrong when I said that even a peaceful protest is not possible in this country,” Farrokhnezhad said, Radio Farda reported. .

Other celebrities have faced work bans and harassment upon returning to the country.

Singer Homayoun Shajarian and his wife, actress Sahar Dolatshahi, had their passports confiscated after returning from a concert in Australia, ILNA news agency reported on Oct. 9.

Iranian football legend Ali Daei said authorities also confiscated his passport upon arrival at Tehran airport. The former Iran national football team head coach and star player in the German professional football association Bundesliga has posted on social media in support of the protests.

“Our former player Ali Daei is no longer allowed to leave the country because he has spoken out for women’s rights,” says German football club Hertha Berlin. tweeted on October 9. “Solidarity with all Herthaners and women in Iran who so bravely fight for their rights.”

Daei said on October 10 that his passport had been returned. At the airport, he said, he was given a receipt “to go to the public and revolutionary prosecutor in the capital to follow up on the case,” AFP reported.

Dubai-based Ali Karimi, who is considered one of Iran’s greatest footballers and an early advocate of the protests, was indicted in absentia on Oct. 4 for “encouraging riots,” Mehr News Agency reported.

How a viral song became the unofficial anthem of the protests in Iran

Some Iranian artists have become internationally known through the state’s attempts to silence them. In late September, authorities arrested Iranian singer Shervin Hajipour after he shared a tribute to the protests on his Instagram page. The song, a compilation of tweets about why Iranians were protesters, quickly went viral as the uprising’s soundtrack. Hajipour was released on bail in early October.

Despite decades of state censorship, Iran has a thriving art scene. Artists and other celebrities have long been targeted in times of turmoil.

In July, authorities arrested two award-winning filmmakers, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, for participating in demonstrations over the collapse of a 10-storey luxury commercial building. Dozens were killed when reports emerged that the council had a stake in the building and approved a shoddy construction plan.

When internationally renowned filmmaker Jafar Panahi went to the public prosecutor’s office to inquire about the detention of his colleagues, authorities also arrested him.

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