x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Asylum embarrassment for Ahmadinejad

The daughter of an adviser to Iran's president refuses to return home after presenting a film about torture that indirectly criticises Iran.

BERLIN // The daughter of a close associate of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has applied for asylum in Germany after presenting a film about torture and totalitarianism at a cultural festival. Narges Kalhor, 25, refused to return to Iran after attending the 12-day Film Festival for Human Rights in Nuremburg. Her 10-minute film, The Rake, about a deadly machine that tortures prisoners, indirectly criticises the Iranian regime and was featured at the festival.

She is living in a refugee centre in the town of Zirndorf, near Nuremburg in Bavaria, southern Germany, the spokesman for the festival, Matthias Rüd, told The National. "This came as a complete surprise to us. We will offer her whatever support we can," he said. Her father, Mahdi Kalhor, advises Mr Ahmadinejad on cultural and media affairs and is regarded as a close confidant of the president. Ms Kalhor told the Financial Times Deutschland, a business daily, that she had intended to travel back to Iran but received a phone call warning her that she would probably be arrested at the airport if she returned, because the Iranian authorities had learnt about her film through the internet.

"The film mirrors our psychological situation in Iran, I hope viewers will detect parallels," she said. In an interview with a fellow Iranian filmmaker, Hana Makhmalbaf ,posted on YouTube on Monday, Narges Kalhor voiced support for Iran's reform movement and said she did not believe her father knew about her plans. "I'm certain he hasn't seen my film or knew about this festival or where I am," she said. "I came from my own desire, for cinema, and I have to continue." In the interview she wore a green scarf - the colour of the Iranian opposition.

Her father told Iran's official IRNA news agency that he knew nothing about his daughter's films or her plans to leave the country, and accused the Iranian opposition of exploiting her for its purposes. "This issue is one of the symbols of a media and soft war that the opposition has launched," IRNA quoted him as saying. He said he had divorced Narges's mother a year ago and that she was an opponent of Mr Ahmadinejad. Ms Kalhor had been living with her mother.

The Rake is based on Franz Kafka's short story The Penal Colony and is set in Iran. The Rake is a machine that punishes convicted prisoners by carving the commandment they had disobeyed into their bodies. It is a symbol of totalitarian barbarism, the Nuremburg festival said on its website. In the film, the protagonist "stops and destroys the machine - and with it the system for which it has stood", says the festival in a summary of the film, one of five shown in a special segment on Iran.

"The film was very well received," said Mr Rüd. He said Ms Kalhor had taken part in panel discussions during the festival. It usually takes months for asylum requests to be processed in Germany. All asylum seekers in Bavaria have to live in the Zirndorf facility, a home for up to 500 people, in the initial stage of their application, before being moved to asylum-seeker homes across the state. The number of Iranians seeking asylum in Germany has more than doubled since July after the Iranian government's clampdown on opposition protesters in the wake of the disputed re-election of Mr Ahmadinejad in June.

A total of 182 people from Iran applied for asylum in September, up from 84 in July. In the past three months, Iran has ranked third in the list of countries from which citizens have sought asylum, behind Iraq and Afghanistan, according to figures released by the German interior ministry on Monday. The Iranian opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, this week accused hardliners of using Inquisition-style methods to suppress reformers after the election.

"It seems some people are trying to take us back to the Inquisition era," Mr Mousavi said on Saturday, referring to mass trials, the closure of pro-reform newspapers and restrictions on political parties in Iran, the Etemad newspaper reported on Monday. The Inquisition was a Catholic tribunal intended to counter the Reformation in Europe. It used imprisonment and torture and reached its height in the 16th century.

Mr Mousavi, who finished second in the election, says the June 12 poll was rigged to secure Mr Ahmadinejad's re-election. The Iranian authorities have rejected the allegations and in August began a series of mass trials of people accused of fomenting the opposition demonstrations in the days after the election. The Iranian news agency ISNA reported on Saturday that a court had sentenced three people to death over the street unrest and links to exiled opposition groups.

@Email:dcrossland@thenational.ae