Iranian filmmaker sentenced to 233 lashes for documentary about graffiti in Tehran

AFP , Saturday 7 May 2016

Filmmaker Keywan Karimi
Filmmaker Keywan Karimi (Photo: AFP)

An Iranian director sentenced to 223 lashes for making a film that has never been officially shown in his homeland said Friday he just wanted to be left alone to work rather than "be turned into a hero".

Keywan Karimi ran into trouble with Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards over a documentary he shot called "Writing on the City" about graffiti in the capital Tehran.

He spent 15 days in solitary confinement in 2013 and was accused of making "propaganda against the regime" and "insulting religious values".

But since then, the young avant-garde filmmaker told AFP, several other "ridiculous" charges have been added including drinking alcohol, having extramarital affairs and making pornography.

"All I was doing was filming what was being written on the walls of Tehran," said the 33-year-old, who comes from the country's Kurdish minority.

Karimi was sentenced to six years in prison in 2015 but after an international outcry in which acclaimed Iranian directors including Jafar Panahi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf rallied to his support, five years of the term was suspended.

The threat of the 233 lashes has not however been lifted, and the prison authorities are now demanding that the punishment be carried out.

"I am not a political activist," Karimi told AFP in a telephone interview. "I am not being sent to prison because I oppose the regime but because I am a filmmaker."

The police have contacted him several times but have not yet arrested him to bring him to prison to be whipped and serve his sentence, he said.

"Writing on the City" has since been shown at film festivals in France, Spain and Switzerland and in the meantime Karimi has continued working on another film project.

"I am waiting for them to come for me. The support I have received helps break the solitude and solidarity from the film world also warms my heart," he added.

Karimi said that he could have immigrated "quite easily but I want to remain to defend my right to live my life.

"The fact that my artistic activity is seen as an act of political opposition says a lot about the situation in Iran," he added.

"When the (Turkish Kurdish director) Yilmaz Guney won the Palme d'Or at Cannes for his film 'Yol' (in 1982), he said that cinema was a part of his political activism.

"He was an activist who was part of a political organisation. But what I draw from his experience is that making films is also a kind of struggle, a struggle in defence of the courage to think," Karimi insisted.

"I do not want to be turned into a hero. Whether my films are seen and I become well-known is really secondary. Cinema is what gives sense to my life."

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