(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 30, 2010 Iranian film director Jafar Panahi on a balcony overlooking Tehran during an interview with AFP. - Dissident Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who won a Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival in 2015, has been arrested by authorities, the Mehr news agency reported on July 11, 2022. He is the third film-maker reported to have been detained by Iranian authorities in the space of a few days. (Photo by Atta KENARE / AFP)

The verdict is twelve years old, now the Iranian filmmaker and Berlinale winner Jafar Panahi has to face it. The 62-year-old is set to remain in Tehran’s Evin prison for six years after he went to prosecutors on July 11 to inquire about fellow Gold Bear winner Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad.

Panahi was promptly taken away – Panahi’s wife Tahereh Saeedi spoke of kidnapping to the BBC. The other two had been arrested three days earlier and are also in prison.

Iran’s regime is taking relentless action these days after violently crushing civil society protests over a collapsed shopping arcade in the southwestern city of Abadan, killing more than 40 people.

The filmmakers had shown solidarity with the protesters, signed the “Put your gun down” appeal with other filmmakers and called for an end to police violence. Apparently a reason, a pretext for the judicial authorities to take rigid action against the internationally renowned, award-winning artists.

“Panahi was sentenced to a total of six years in prison in 2010…so he was taken to Evin Prison to serve the sentence,” said Justice Spokesman Massoud Setayeshi. Unfortunately, it can be assumed that Rasoulof and Aleahmad will also have to remain in prison.

In March 2010, the two were arrested for alleged “anti-regime propaganda” in connection with the protests following the Iranian presidential elections the previous year. Rasoulof was released after three weeks, Panahi on high bail after almost three months. The subsequent sentence was six years for both of them, and Panahi was also banned from filming and traveling. Rasoulof’s sentence was commuted to probation, but in 2019 he was sentenced to another year in prison – without parole.

None of those sentences were carried out, but the prison sword of Damocles hung over the directors through the years. Despotism is one of the regime’s tried and tested methods of keeping its critics in check. In any case, both filmmakers continued to work (Rasoulof had his passport revoked, like Panahi, but he was not banned from filming). Jafar Panahi shot the video diary This Is Not a Movie in his apartment, a tragi-comic self-reflection on the capture of the imagination. And after the semi-documentary puzzle game “Closed Curtain” (Silver Bear 2013), which was also secretly created, he shot the road movie “Taxi Tehran (Golden Bear 2015).

In it he embodies a taxi driver, using the protected space inside a car in the middle of public space. Another high-risk, cinematic guerrilla action – crew uncredited.

Mohammad Rasoulof had to exercise similar caution with his death penalty episodic drama But There Is No Evil, the 2020 Berlinale winner. In order to obtain the filming permit – unavoidable because of the outdoor shooting in Tehran as well – the scripts of four short films were presented to the authorities.

“We have registered four productions by four filmmakers, they happen to be my assistant directors,” Rasoulof explained in the Tagesspiegel interview in 2020. “The censorship system doesn’t look too closely at short films. The films are set in four very different places, they were made at different times.”

In the next few days, the whole world will certainly be demanding the immediate release of the artists, as the Berlinale, the Cannes and Venice film festivals, the European Film Academy, the international organization “Filmmakers at Risk” already did after the arrests on July 8th and 11th. and the French Foreign Ministry did – and as German politics may now do as well. Good this way. The only thing to fear is that it won’t help the filmmakers any time soon.