Iran: serious concerns for the health of imprisoned filmmaker Keywan Karimi⁩

Rapid Action – 13 February 2017

Update #2 to RAN 14/2015

PEN International is seriously concerned for the health of imprisoned filmmaker Keywan Karimi. The prominent Kurdish filmmaker, who has been in prison since 23 November 2016, is in need of urgent medical care after multiple episodes of pulmonary bleeding. Doctors at Tehran’s Evin prison have said that he has bronchitis and an acute lung infection and have advised a transfer to a specialised facility. However, the prison authorities have reportedly refused to authorise this transfer. Karimi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and 223 lashes on 13 October 2015 by Branch 28 of Tehran Revolutionary Court for ‘insulting the holy sanctities’, ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘illegitimate relations’. An Appeals Court upheld his sentence in February 2016, ruling to suspend five of his six-year punishment for a period of five years. He is now serving a one-year prison term and he is expected to receive 223 lashes while in prison. PEN International reiterates its call on the Iranian authorities to quash Karimi’s conviction. PEN is also gravely concerned at the flogging sentence, as it violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. The organisation urges the Iranian authorities to grant Karimi all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency.

TAKE ACTION: Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media

Please send appeals:

  • Expressing serious concern for Keywan Karimi’s health and urging that he is given access to specialised medical care as a matter of urgency;
  • Expressing concern at the conviction and harsh sentence imposed on filmmaker Keywan Karimi and calling on the Iranian authorities to quash his conviction as it is connected to his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression;
  • Expressing concern at his flogging sentence, which violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • Calling also for the immediate and unconditional release of all other writers and journalists currently detained in Iran in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.

Write to

Leader of the Islamic Republic
Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street — End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email:’ ‘.((strlen(‘’)>40) ? substr(‘’,0,40).’…’ : ‘’).’
Twitter: @khamenei_ir English-language account), @Khamenei_ar (Arabic-language), @Khamenei_es (Spanish-language account).

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
c/o Public Relations Office
Number 4, Deadend of 1 Azizi Vali Asr Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Hassan Rouhani
Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: media [at] rouhani [dot] ir
Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and
@Rouhani_ir (Persian)

And copy to the Embassy of Iran in your country. You can find embassy addresses here.

Please also contact your own Foreign Ministry, asking them to raise the case with their Iranian counterparts. Centres in European Union Countries are also asked to urge their Foreign Ministries to ensure that his case is raised by the European Union.


Keywan Karimi, a member of Iran’s Kurdish minority, is a prominent documentary and fiction filmmaker. His documentary Marz-e Shekasteh (The Broken Border) was awarded as best short documentary in Beirut International Film Festival in 2013. This documentary portrayed the poor conditions of the Kurdish population near the Iranian border. His film Zendegi-ye Zan va Shohar (The Adventure of a Married Couple) was presented at San Sebastian, Freiburg and Zurich Film Festivals. The film, adapted from a story by Italian writer Italo Calvino, tackles the challenges of a working-class couple.

Karimi was arrested on 14 December 2013 and released on bail after 12 days in solitary confinement during which he was accused of insulting authorities after a music clip and documentary were found on his hard drive, even though they had never been screened or shared online. The music clip, which had never been finalised or shown, was made for exiled Iranian singer Shahin Najafi and Karimi believes this video, which the authorities had learned about from other sources, led to his arrest. Later, he was accused of ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ in connection with his 2012 film Neveshtan Rooy-e Shahr (Writing on the City) which has never been shown in public, apart from a trailer on YouTube. Karimi describes the film as containing ‘graffiti and wall painting that date back to 100 years ago in Tehran. It is story of a wall and how it reflects what happened in society’.

On 13 October 2015, after six trial sessions, he was sentenced by the Branch 28 of Tehran Revolutionary Court for ‘insulting the holy sanctities’, ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘illegitimate relations’. Human rights organisations fear that he has been prosecuted because some of the graffiti shown were connected to the unrest in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election. The charge of ‘illegitimate relations’ was brought because he shook hands with a woman to whom he was not related.

Karimi’s lawyer, Amir Raeisian, highlighted irregularities in the trial, pointing out that at the final session, the judge was reading from a verdict, even though the verdict should have been issued after the trial. This was corroborated by the date on the verdict when he received it, 22 June 2015, which pre-dated the final trial session on 22 September 2015. Raeisian has also pointed out that according to article 134 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, an individual who faces multiple charges should not be sentenced to the heaviest penalty in more than one of the charges, whereas Karimi has been given the maximum sentence for both charges.

In December 2015, more than 135 Iranian filmmakers released a letter calling on the judiciary to acquit Karimi. On 20 February 2016, Karimi was informed of the verdict of his appeal, held on 23 December 2015. The appeals court ruled to suspend five of the six years he had been sentenced to spend in prison, for a period of five years. Karimi began serving his sentence on 23 November 2016 and is expected to receive the lashes while in prison.

According to reports, Karimi has been transferred to the clinic in Tehran’s Evin prison several times since January due to pulmonary bleeding. He has been diagnosed with bronchitis and an acute lung infection and his condition is currently only being treated with sedatives. Clinic doctors have advised that he is urgently transferred to a specialised facility outside of prison. However, prison authorities have so far refused to authorise this transfer. Karimi also suffers from a pre-existing bone condition called an aneurysmal bone cyst, which is characterised by blood-filled fibrous cysts that expand the bone and can cause pain, swelling and fractures. Some 10 years ago, he received surgery to remove a cyst in his shin bone, which requires ongoing monitoring.

While awaiting the summons to begin serving his sentence, Karimi continued his filmmaking work. Drum, his first fiction film, was produced in the spring of 2016 and premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The events of the film occur in Tehran city and the aesthetic of the film reportedly reflects the pressures under which it was made.