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Celebrity Anti-Sanction Campaign Divides Opinion Among Iranians

Iranian prominent film-makers Khosro Sinaei (L) and Reza Allamehzadeh, who debated an anti-sanctions petition in a Radio Farda program this week.

A petition against U.S. sanctions posted on social media November 9 by a group of Iranian celebrities and cultural figures has elicited a mostly critical reaction among Persian language social media users.

The petition, named “Voices Against Sanctions" was originally signed by Iranian academy award laureate Asghar Farhadi, prominent filmmaker Rakhshan Banietemad, and several other artists, as well as prominent lawyer Bahman Keshavarz.

Reactions on social media as of November 15 were mostly critical of the signatories, who called on the “people of the world” to denounce the sanctions reimposed by the U.S. after it withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May. The petition says the sanctions are unjust, as it is average Iranians who suffer most under sanctions.

Radio Farda has taken notice that there is also an email campaign addressed to known Iranians urging them to sign the petition. Anonymous emails are being received by some in the Diaspora to join the campaign.

Prominent journalist Faraj Sarkohi tweeted: “Can’t the people of the world you have addressed ask to what extent the Islamic Republic is to be blamed for the quagmire that has engulfed the country? How have the artists reacted to that?"

One response in favor of the petition came from former cleric Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, who described the sanctions as "inhumane" and "oppressive."

A user with the profile name Kiyan Jamali told the artists to stand against corruption in Iran rather than trying to please Iran’s rulers.

Another user with the profile name Korosha asked the celebrities, "Why don't you campaign against IRGC’s (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) intervention in other countries' affairs and writing slogans against other countries on missiles? These were the acts that resulted in reinstating the sanctions.”

Radio Farda could not independently confirm the authenticity of the unverified social media accounts.

"Once again, the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran” the petition reads. “Such measures have never brought to the people of Iran what politicians proclaim they will: human rights, freedom, and a better life. Every Iranian will personally pay the price for these sanctions."

The petition was accompanied by a sensationalized video purporting to show the effects of sanctions on average Iranians. The video drew criticism from the public and was characterized by some as fake.

Speaking to Radio Farda's Babak Ghafouri Azar, two Iranian filmmakers expressed conflicting views on the campaign.

"Artists' participation in a campaign against sanctions is part of their social responsibility. Those who criticize this action should live and work in Iran to be able to pass judgement on this matter,” said Khosrw Sinai, a filmmaker who lives in Iran.

Reza Allamehzadeh, a foreign-based Iranian filmmaker, applauded the artists’ support for the people, but asked “why didn’t the signatories of this petition ever launch a campaign against what [already] takes place against the people in Iran?"

The Iranian film industry is strictly controlled by the state, which must approve the screenplay before filming and the final product before screening. The government decides which films will receive state subsidies and support throughout the production and screening stages.