Iranian stars who shone at Cannes ask Britain for asylum

By Stina Backer
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:43

Two young Iranian actors and musicians, propelled to fame at the Cannes Film Festival, are seeking asylum in Britain after another member of their band disappeared after being arrested by the country's Revolutionary Guard.

Ashkan Kooshanejad, 24, and his girlfriend Negar Shaghaghi, 23, were chosen to star in award-winning director Bahman Ghobadi's latest film No One Knows About Persian Cats, about the Tehran's illegal underground music scene, in which they are significant figures.

Being a rock musician in Iran is a dangerous profession as Western-inspired music was banned in the country after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Musicians who defy the strict rules risk harsh punishments such as lashings, fines and imprisonment.

In January Negar and Ashkan came to Britain on six-month artist's visas to promote the film and to raise the profile of Iranian music. They had hoped that Mirhossein Mousavi would win the June presidential election so that they could easily return to Iran in July to renew their visas and return to Europe. However, they now say they are likely to be arrested if they go back home.

"We know Ghobadi was arrested when he returned in June as a result of the film and we are worried the same will happen to us," Ashkan said.

His worries are confirmed by the fact that the drummer in his band, Ali Ghomashchi, 25, who was over in the UK with him, was arrested only days after returning to Iran to be with his family after hearing that his sister had been beaten up and hospitalised during the post-election demonstrations.

"We haven't heard from him for several weeks, neither have his family, they haven't been told where he is being held or what has been charged with," he added.

Ashkan and his band have previously been beaten and imprisoned for putting on a concert. Their families have received threats from the police and their secret rehearsal studio in Tehran has been raided.

The couple and two further band members, Pooya Koosha, 27, and Kaveh Ayati, 26, now face an asylum interview with the Home Office on Monday.

Their solicitor Ali Rahimi believes that they have a strong claim to remain in Britain due to their previous arrest and because they have actively participated in Western media, something which Iranian authorities will see as a direct threat.

"It is a very risky proposition for them to return to Iran now – they are likely to face prosecution and the arrest of their drummer supports this fact. Their involvement with Ghobadi makes this a high-profile case. Their involvement in the music scene and the dangers they face because of it makes this very unusual," he said.

Negar added: "The [Iranian] government has realised that artists are capable of influencing the masses and especially the youth. That's why they are tracking us down, they are afraid of us."

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