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Iranian-Canadian director prevented from leaving Tehran to attend London film fest

Mani Haghighi had criticized Iran’s mandatory hijab law a couple weeks earlier
Director Mani Haghighi addresses the media during the press conference for the film ‘A Dragon Arrives!’ at the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. Haghighi said in an Instagram video that he was unable to attend a screening of his film at the London Film Festival because Iranian authorities stopped him from boarding his flight in Tehran and later confiscated his passport.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Axel Schmidt

An Iranian-Canadian director says he was unable to attend a film festival in London Friday as Iranian authorities prevented his departure.

Director Mani Haghighi said in an Instagram video he couldn’t be at the screening of his film at the London Film Festival because Iranian authorities stopped him from boarding his flight in Tehran and later confiscated his passport.

The British Film Institute said in a statement that Haghighi was due to present his film “Subtraction,” which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last month.

While promoting the film, Haghighi told Variety his Iranian-Canadian identity was important to him. Haghighi attended school in Ontario and Quebec, and he told the entertainment publication 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 later went to study in Ontario, and became a Canadian citizen in the 1990s said Wilson.

In his video message, Haghighi said he was given no reasonable explanation by authorities for the confiscation of his passport.

Two weeks earlier, Haghighi posted a video criticizing Iran’s mandatory hijab law and recent crackdown on youth protesters.

Public anger in Iran has coalesced around last month’s death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police, an advocacy group said. Amini’s death has led to a series of demonstrations against the government, some in which girls and women remove their mandatory head scarves on the street in a show of solidarity.

As the movement entered its fifth week, at least 233 protesters have been killed ⁠— 32 among the dead were below the age of 18, according to U.S.-based rights monitor HRANA.

Haghighi said that he believes authorities have kept him in Tehran to watch over him and to prevent the director from speaking out.

“The very fact that I am talking to you in this video right now undermines that plan,” said Haghighi.

Despite the inability to attend the festival in London or leave Iran, Haghighi said in a video that he is honoured to bear witness to history in Iran, and that he would rather be in Tehran than anywhere else in the world.

“Being here in Tehran right now, is one of the greatest joys of my life,” said Haghighi in a video. “If this is a punishment for what I’ve done, then by all means, bring it on.”

The London Film Festival said it supports Haghighi and all filmmakers in their freedom to present their films around the world.

Global Affairs Canada said it’s aware “of reports of a Canadian citizen in Iran” and that officials were ready to provide consular assistance, but would not disclose any more information citing privacy concerns.

Spokesperson Patricia Skinner also said in an emailed statement 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 peaceful protest, Skinner said.

Haghighi could not be reached for comment.

Caitlin Yardley, The Canadian Press

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