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Iran detains 6 documentary filmmakers, activists say

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 3:28 AM EDT, Tue September 20, 2011
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pictured on August 26, is being urged to free filmmakers and journalists.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pictured on August 26, is being urged to free filmmakers and journalists.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Filmmakers accused of working for the BBC's Persian service
  • BBC says no one works for it inside Iran
  • Rights activists say Iranian government can't tolerate independence

(CNN) -- Iran has detained six documentary filmmakers on accusations that they worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation's Persian service, activists said on Monday.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran urged authorities to end the "ongoing intimidation and arrest of filmmakers and journalists" and called on diplomats and journalists in New York to press President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his country's rights record during his reported visit to New York this week.

"These arrests prove yet again that President Ahmadinejad and his intelligence apparatus have no tolerance for independent filmmakers and journalists," Aaron Rhodes, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement.

"If the president expects the international community to respect his right to speak in New York, then he should be forced to explain why filmmakers and media are subject to repression in Iran," he added.

Citing sources, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said the six documentary filmmakers were detained over the weekend and taken to prison.

It said a pro-government news agency accused the filmmakers of working for BBC Persian and spying for the service.

The BBC said Monday that no one works for the Persian service inside Iran and noted that the arrests came one day after the service broadcast a documentary on Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

The documentary was an in-house production and none of the detained filmmakers worked on it, the BBC reported.

In a news story posted on its website, the BBC quoted its language service chief, Liliane Landor, as saying the arrests are part of the "ongoing efforts by the Iranian government to put pressure on the BBC."

Also Monday, the Iranian minister of culture and Islamic guidance told the semiofficial Iranian Students' News Agency that the intelligence ministry is responsible for providing details on the filmmakers' case.

"BBC Farsi was a major actor in the disturbances during and after the elections," Seyed Mohammad Hosseini told the agency, referring to the 2009 presidential elections.

"It agitated and guided the people in the hopes to create problems for the country. This is why the representative office of the BBC was shut down in Tehran at that time. Those who are working legally in Iran must now pay close attention and be very careful. We do not plan on supporting a network that engages in anti-Iran activities and works against the interests of the country," he said.

That office of the BBC was reopened and remains open.

CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report.

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