An Iranian-Canadian director said he could not attend a film festival in London on Friday after Iranian authorities blocked his departure.
Director Mani Haghighi said in an Instagram video that he was unable to attend the screening of his film at the London Film Festival because Iranian authorities prevented him from boarding his flight to Tehran and later confiscated his passport.
The British Film Institute said in a statement that Haghighi will present his film Subtraction, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last month.
While promoting the film, Haghighi told Variety that his Iranian-Canadian identity is important to him. Haghighi attended school in Ontario and Quebec and told Entertainment magazine he still has close friends in Canada.
Canadian music critic Carl Wilson said he went to McGill University with Haghighi in the late 1980s and has been friends with the director ever since, even providing editorial help on some English subtitles for “Subtraction.”
Haghighi then went to school in Ontario and became a Canadian citizen in the 1990s, Wilson said.
In his video message, Haghighi said he had not received a reasonable explanation from the authorities for the confiscation of his passport.
Two weeks earlier, Haghighi released a video criticizing Iran’s mandatory hijab law and recent crackdowns on young protesters.
Public anger has been heating up in Iran over the death last month of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the country’s vice squad, an advocacy group said. Amini’s death has sparked a series of anti-government protests, with some girls and women taking off their mandatory headscarves in the streets in solidarity.
As the movement entered its fifth week, at least 233 protesters were killed – 32 of the dead were under 18, according to US-based human rights monitor HRANA.
Haghighi said he believes the authorities were holding him in Tehran to monitor him and prevent the director from speaking out.
“The very fact that I’m speaking to you right now in this video undermines that plan,” Haghighi said.
Although he cannot attend the festival in London or leave Iran, Haghighi said in a video that he was honored to witness history in Iran and would rather be in Tehran than anywhere else in the world.
“Being here in Tehran now is one of the greatest joys of my life,” Haghighi said in a video. “If that’s punishment for what I did, then by all means do it.”
The London Film Festival said it supports Haghighi and all filmmakers in their freedom to screen their films around the world.
Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of “reports from a Canadian citizen in Iran” and officials were ready to provide consular assistance but would not release any further information, citing confidentiality concerns.
Spokeswoman Patricia Skinner also said in an emailed statement that Canadian citizens should avoid all travel to Iran due to the volatile security situation.
Canada stands in solidarity with women and other protesters in Iran and calls on the Iranian regime to listen to the concerns of its citizens and protect their right to protest peacefully, Skinner said.
Haghighi could not be reached for comment.
Caitlin Yardley, The Canadian Press
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