Iran Election Watch 2013: Rasoulof’s Cannes triumph and Fallahian’s disqualification: What is the lesson?

We recently witnessed a fascinating intersection of art, history, and politics in Iran which has not really been remarked upon. Last week former Minister of Intelligence Ali Fallahian was disqualified by Iran’s Council of Guardians from being a candidate in the 2013 Iranian presidential election. Around the same time Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof presented his film Manuscripts Don’t Burn at the Cannes Film Festival’s “Un Certain Regarde” sidebar, winning praise at the festival and around the world. The film is a fictionalized account of the very real and brutal repression of Iranian dissidents by Iran’s security apparatus during the mid-1990s. Rasoulof, a native of Shiraz, apparently filmed some of the scenes in secret in Iran and other scenes in Germany with a cast which has remained anonymous. The film gives an unflinching account of the silencing of dissidents in Iran during this period by following the lives of two Ministry of Intelligence and Security (VEVAK in Farsi) assassins, Khosrow and Morteza, and some of their victims.

In fact the disqualified Fallahian, minister of intelligence between 1989 to 1997, is believed to have been the mastermind behind the assassination program depicted in the film. This sinister program is believed to have included the Chain Murders of November to December 1998, during which nationalist political figure Dariush Forouhar and his wife Parvaneh Eskandari were stabbed to death in their home while prominent writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad-Jafar Pouyandeh disappeared only to be found dead later. One of the most bizarre and terrifying episodes of this assassination program, known as the Heyran Canyon Incident and recreated in the film, was the botched plot to drive a bus carrying Iranian artists to an event in Armenia off of a cliff. The artists were only saved thanks to the quick actions of one of the passengers who redirected the bus back on the road after the driver had jumped out.

As Rasoulof, himself a victim of the Islamic Republic’s repression, was being showered with international praise, Fallahian, the man responsible for the events the film depicts and a person who boasts about being wanted by Interpol, was being casually discarded. The regime did not even see it fit to allow him to become a candidate in the election despite the fact that he has been one of its most loyal servants, doing unconscionable deeds on its behalf.  The lesson in all of this might just be that the future is bleak indeed for the many Fallahians who continue to operate in Iran while the future of the country belongs to the Rasoulofs who toil in silence.