Iranian independent filmmaker of Kurdish origin Keywan Karimi, 33, was sentenced back in 2015 to 223 lashes for his documentary, “Writing on the City,” about graffiti in the capital Tehran. “Writing on the City” is a 60 minutes documentary film Karimi produced in 2012 and completed in August 2015, which has never been shown to Iranian audiences, other than its trailer on YouTube. It has since been shown at film festivals in France, Spain and Switzerland.
Hamid Dabashi, author and Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University called the film “an excellent documentary on the evolution of graffiti in Tehran over the last three decades plus,” and said that “Keywan had brought the narrative of those graffiti down to the aftermath of the Green Movement of 2008 with an acute sense of history and aesthetics.”
And Belgian writer Raoul Vaneigem wrote, “The wall is a mirror / A mirror of the house, of the city, of the world / Reflections of every shape and form stream by it as clouds do in the sky / We have learned to go through the mirror so what was closed will open up / The freedom of the walls breaks down the prison walls / When reality is unveiled, dreams become reality / Under the clothing of creeds and of ideas, what is lived is always bare / Then nothing more conceals a human being from himself / Someday the walls will have the transparency of our desires.”
Understandably, Iran’s authorities were not amused. In December 2013, the Revolutionary Guard showed up at Keywan’s house with an arrest warrant. They took him, his hard drives and other confiscated materials to Evin Prison where he was interrogated and kept in solitary confinement for two weeks. He was released three weeks later on $100,000 bail. After eight court appearances over two years, on October 13, 2015, Keywan was sentenced by the Islamic Revolutionary Court to six years imprisonment and 223 lashings for “propagating against the ruling system” and “insulting religious sanctities.”
Five out of the six years’ sentence were suspended in response to international protest, that included Iranian directors including Jafar Panahi (Taxi Tehran), who also spent time behind bars courtesy of the Islamic State, and exile Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The President).
Nevertheless, the prison authorities are now demanding that Karimi’s punishment of 233 lashes be carried out. “I am waiting for them to come for me,” he told AFP this week. “The support I have received helps break the solitude and solidarity from the film world also warms my heart.” He added that “the fact that my artistic activity is seen as an act of political opposition says a lot about the situation in Iran.”