Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wearing a protective face mask, attends a meeting in Tehran, April 14, 2021. (AP)

August 14, 2021

Two leading Iranian filmmakers, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, have published a video featuring clips of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaking on the Covid-19 pandemic, including his ban on United States and British-made vaccines, and said he must answer for endangering the lives of Iranians.

In an Instagram post Friday, Panahi, whose awards include the 1995 Camera d’Or at Cannes for Badkonak-e sefid (The White Balloon), said the authorities were trying to cover up the regime’s incompetence and failure in containing the Covid pandemic by deflecting blame, accusing Iranians of ignoring health protocols or by criticizing minor officials with little responsibility. The Instagram post received over 200,000 likes within six hours.

“The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic has set these policies personally from the very start,” Panahi wrote. “When everyone in the world was trying to prevent the spread of the virus, he tried to undermine its importance. When other world leaders were competing to procure vaccines, he banned the vaccines that had been approved…He is now saying that the Covid issue is the country’s most important and urgent matter…Is it not time that he answers, for once, about his contradictory remarks?”

Panahi was convicted by a revolutionary court in 2010 of “collusion and propaganda against the Islamic Republic system” and sentenced to six years in prison. He was placed under house arrest and banned from making films or travelling abroad for 20 years.

Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof. FILE

Rasoulof posted the same video on Twitter(link is external) Friday. “This video reveals who gives the orders,” he wrote. “The person issuing the command and the role of the agents of this mass murder will remain in the memory of millions of Iranians. The day of justice will come.”

Rasoulof won the Golden Bear at the 2020 Berlin Film festival for Sheytân vojud nadarad (rendered in English as ‘There is No Evil’), which tells four stories of capital punishment in Iran. In March 2020 he was sentenced to a year in prison over his films, and banned from making others for two years, but has appealed and said he will not turn himself in due to the Covid pandemic.

On Thursday, rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi accused Khamenei of direct responsibility for Covid deaths by rejecting as “strange” an offer in March 2020 from the Trump administration(link is external) of assistance. “As a human rights activist and defender of peace, I consider the statements and orders of the leader of the Islamic Republic regarding the pandemic a violation of the right of the Iranian people to live and a threat against peace,” Mohammadi wrote in an Instagram post(link is external).

New infections in Iran have risen to around 40,000 daily from 10,000 in June, with only 3.8 percent, or 3.15 million people, fully vaccinated, according to figures from John Hopkins university.

The outgoing health minister has been among those urging(link is external) stricter public-health protocols, but calls from officials for social distancing have been often flouted in current ceremonies for the mourning month of Muharram. The more infectious Delta variant has come with officials complaining that both Russia and China failed to deliver vaccines on time, while supplies of AstraZenica from Japan(link is external) are on a small scale.

On Friday the Association of Iranian Documentary Filmmakers issued a statement that documentary filmmakers would record current circumstances for “the judgment of history.” In implied criticism of the refusal of US and British vaccines, the association said that “every single Iranian must have access to all vaccines approved by the World Health Organization.” As of July 15, the WHO had expressed approval of 11 different(link is external) vaccines.

Iran International

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.