Groups aim to apply pressure to government for release

Nine Hollywood organizations have combined to support imprisoned Iranian filmmakers and pressure the government to free them.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the groups cited last month’s arrest of Naser Safarian, Mohsen Shahrnazdar, Hadi Afarideh, Shahnam Bazdar, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Katayoun Shahabis on charges of espionage and treason after they worked with the BBC. Iran has since released Safarian and Shahrnazdar but the fate of their colleagues is unknown.

They also protested the ongoing house arrest of director Jafar Panahi and the detention of actress Marzieh Vafamehr, who was sentenced to a year in prison and 90 lashes.

The orgs include the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Cinema Editors, the American Society of Cinematographers, the Directors Guild of America, the Intl. Documentary Assn., the Producers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers Guild of America West and the WGA East.

The AMPAS board of governors said the situation demands “serious” attention. “These filmmakers — and others — are artists, not political combatants. We join our colleagues around the world in calling unequivocally for these filmmakers’ safety, release, and return to filmmaking,” the board said. “They deserve the same, full freedom of expression that the overwhelming majority of our members enjoy every day, no matter where they are from, no matter where they work, no matter what their beliefs.”

SAG noted that Iran has a strong tradition of artistic expression reaching back thousands of years.

“That tradition is under attack in a contemporary Iran that has seemingly turned against its own artists,” SAG said. “Screen Actors Guild deeply deplores the persecution of Marzieh Vafamehr and the filmmakers and other entertainment and media industry representatives now under attack in Iran. We add our voices to the thousands of artists worldwide calling on the Iranian government to immediately free Marzieh and the other artists and filmmakers imprisoned because of their artistic and cultural endeavors.”

A Tehran appeals court recently upheld a six-year jail sentence against Panahi as well as a 20-year filmmaking and travel ban on the helmer. Panahi is at home in Tehran pending the execution of the jail sentence. His lawyer, Farideh Ghairat, will appeal to Iran’s Supreme Court. The filmmaker was arrested in March 2010 when authorities objected to a documentary he was said to be making about the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was held for three months before being released under house arrest.

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