Iran has sentenced a film director to an effective three-year prison term for alleged national security offenses, including his work on a decade-old documentary about an Iranian journalist who later became a prominent anti-government activist, according to the director’s sister.
Speaking to VOA Persian from her home in Canada on Tuesday, Neda Mihandoust said Iranian authorities had sent a notification of the prison sentence to a lawyer for her Tehran-based brother Reza Mihandoust, also known as Navid, two days earlier.
She said a Revolutionary Court in the Iranian capital sentenced Reza Mihandoust to a three-year prison term for a charge of membership in a group seeking to overthrow the government and a six-month prison term for a charge of spreading anti-government propaganda. The court had conducted a one-day trial for her brother, who remains free on bail, on Dec. 28, she said.
Several Iranian state media sites quoted Reza Mihandoust’s lawyer, Mohammad Hadi Erfanian-Kaseb, as confirming the sentences in a Tuesday tweet.
Under Iranian law, Mihandoust would serve only the longest of the two terms, three years, if they are upheld on appeal. Erfanian-Kaseb, who rejected the charges in court, was planning to appeal the sentences in the coming days, the director's sister said.
Neda Mihandoust said Iranian authorities cited her brother’s collaboration with then-Iran-based journalist Masih Alinejad on a 2009 documentary about Alinejad’s journalistic endeavors as one of the pretexts for charging him with belonging to a group seeking to overthrow the government.
The sister of Reza Mihandoust said his friendly relationships with both Masih Alinejad and the journalist’s brother Alireza Alinejad also were cited as proof of the charge. "This is a normal friendship between families, and it cannot be considered a case of membership in an anti-regime group,” Neda Mihandoust said.
Masih Alinejad had worked as a journalist in Iran in the 2000s, writing articles exposing government mismanagement and corruption until authorities revoked her press pass and threatened her with arrest. She fled her homeland in 2009, first to Britain and later to the U.S., where she hosts VOA Persian’s Tablet show and has led a campaign against Iran’s Islamist rulers for compelling women to wear hijabs in public.
Iran arrested Alireza Alinejad in September 2019 and sentenced him last July to eight years in prison for alleged national security offenses. His sister, Masih, accused Iran of taking him hostage to try to silence her criticism of the nation’s ruling clerics.
“It is a shameful act for the Islamic Republic to punish a documentary maker for a film that he made 11 years ago,” Masih Alinejad told VOA Persian. She also called on human rights organizations to shine a spotlight on the sentencing of Mihandoust.
Alinejad said Mihandoust’s film depicted the challenges that she faced as she tried to obtain information from Iranian officials in the runup to Iran’s 2009 presidential election, in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected in disputed circumstances that triggered a nationwide protest movement. Mihandoust based the documentary's title, Taj-e-Khar (The Crown of Thorns), on the name of a book that Alinejad had written about her journalistic career. The film was never publicly released.
Alinejad said Iranian authorities refused to give Mihandoust a permit to release the documentary, which had taken two years to produce. She said authorities previously had given her a permit to release the book of the same name, but later regretted doing so when they saw the book’s popularity.
Mihandoust’s sister, Neda, told VOA that his other charge of spreading antigovernment propaganda related to his brief detention during Iran’s nationwide antigovernment protests of November 2019. She said he was detained for several hours on Nov. 19 of that year by a security officer of Tehran’s Book Garden megamall for wearing a white ribbon saying, “The Islamic Republic is not our choice.”
Iran’s Islamist leaders seized power in a 1979 revolution and have faced multiple mass public protests in recent years against their authoritarian rule.
Reza Mihandoust was detained again on Dec. 4, 2019, and interrogated for two months at an intelligence ministry-run ward of Tehran’s Evin prison until being released on Feb. 3 on bail of around $35,000 at the unofficial exchange rate.
"My brother was not able to resume his professional work after his temporary release, because when faced with such accusations, no one has been willing to cooperate with him,” Neda Mihandoust said. “We hope that the appellate court will change his verdict, but we do not know what will happen and that worries us.”
Reza Mihandoust is also a writer and has multiple directing credits, including the 2010 film Whatever God Wants and the TV series Glass Ceiling and It Could Happen to You Too.