Iranian film director Mohammad Rasoulof flees after jail sentence

Mohammad Rasoulof (2020 picture)
Rasoulof has repeatedly defied Iranian authorities over the years [Reuters]

Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof says he has fled the country after receiving a jail sentence for making his latest film in secret.

In an Instagram post, he said he was in a "safe place" after people "risked their lives" to help him cross borders.

His film The Seed of the Sacred Fig is to be premiered at the Cannes festival, which opens on Tuesday.

Rasoulof won the top prize at the 2020 Berlin Festival with There Is No Evil, a film about the death penalty in Iran.

"I am grateful to my friends, acquaintances, and people who kindly, selflessly, and sometimes by risking their lives, helped me get out of the border and reach a safety after a difficult and long journey," he wrote in his post on Monday.

His lawyer Babak Paknia told AFP news agency: "I can confirm that Mohammad Rasoulof has left Iran and will attend the Cannes festival."

The Iranian authorities had tried to force him to ask organisers to withdraw The Seed of the Sacred Fig from the event, but he refused to do so.

Rasoulof, 51, gave no details about his escape route. He also posted a video of a snow-covered mountain, suggesting that he crossed the border either into Iraq or Turkey with the help of smugglers.

Last week a court sentenced him to eight years in jail on charges of "collusion against national security".

In his statement posted on Instagram, he said: "The scope and intensity of repression has reached a point of brutality where people expect news of another heinous government crime every day."

Rasoulof has repeatedly run afoul of Iran's Islamic courts. In 2019 he was sentenced to a year in jail over his film A Man of Integrity, which won a prize at the 2017 Cannes festival.

After There is no Evil in 2020, the director was convicted of anti-government propaganda and given another one-year sentence.