Iranian Director Mohammad Rasoulof Flees Home Country Ahead of Cannes to Escape Flogging, Jail Sentence

The “Seed of the Sacred Fig” director is in an undisclosed location in Europe

Mohammad Rasoulof at Cannes in 2017
Getty Images

Mohammad Rasoulof, the Iranian director of Berlin Golden Bear winner “There Is No Evil” who was sentenced to jail and flogging for his films and public statements, has fled his home country to an undisclosed location in Europe, his representatives said Monday.

The news raises the possibility that Rasoulof could attend the world premiere of his most recent film “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” which is screening in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. 

“I arrived in Europe a few days ago after a long and complicated journey,” Rasoulof said in a statement dated Sunday. “About a month ago, my lawyers informed me that my eight-year prison sentence was confirmed in the court of appeal and would be implemented on short notice. Knowing that the news of my new film would be revealed very soon, I knew that without a doubt, a new sentence would be added to these eight years. I didn’t have much time to make a decision. I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile. The Islamic Republic confiscated my passport in September 2017. Therefore, I had to leave Iran secretly.”

Rasoulof received his sentence for involvement in films that are “examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the country’s security,” and for public statements to which the country’s authoritarian regime objected, his lawyer said last week.

This comes after he was subjected to punitive scrutiny for “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” which Iranian authorities pressured Rasoulof to remove from festival competition. He also said people involved with the film, including actors, were harassed and questioned by police.

“Of course, I strongly object to the unjust recent ruling against me that forces me into exile,” Rasoulof wrote. “However, the judicial system of the Islamic Republic has issued so many cruel and strange decisions that I do not feel it is my place to complain about my sentence. Death sentences are being executed as the Islamic Republic has targeted the lives of protesters and civil rights activists.”

According to Yashar Ali’s blog The Reset, Rasoulof on Monday posted a brief clip of an (undisclosed) mountain location from his on-foot flight, though didn’t provide any further context:

The outspoken director has faced legal persecution in his home country before, though the latest sentence was the harshest. In 2010, he was accused of filming without a permit and sentenced to six years in prison, though this was later reduced to a year.

In 2019, authorities objected to his film “A Man of Integrity” and sentenced him to a year in prison for “gathering and collusion against national security and of propaganda against the system.” This was later expanded to two years in prison.

Then in 2022, he was sent to prison again for criticizing Iranian security forces’ conduct in response to protests over a building that had collapsed in the city of Abadan. He was released after going on a hunger strike.

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