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Feb 10 2011

International Outcry for Imprisoned Iranian Director

by Jamie Kulhanek

A scene from JAFAR PANAHI’s The Circle, 2000, for which he won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.

On December 20, celebrated Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in jail following government accusations that he was making a film about the country’s contested 2009 election. He was also served a 20-year ban from making films, writing screenplays, leaving the country, and giving interviews with Iranian and foreign media.

The Green Voice of Freedom, a news site run by Iran’s Green Party­­­, reported that Panahi was accused of “assembling and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” Panahi’s detention began on March 1 when plain-clothes officers entered his home to take the director, his wife, daughter and their 15 dinner guests to Evin Prison in northwester Tehran. Most were released within 48 hours, while the remainder where realized on March 17.

Panahi, a supporter of the Green Party, remained in prison, with the government claiming he “was making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed election.” Panahi’s wife, Tahereh Saeedi, denied this accusation, noting at that time that there were no charges filed against her husband. “The film was being shot in the house and had nothing to do with the regime,” she said.

The Iranian government has responded to international criticism by blaming the sentencing on the judiciary. On January 18, Agence France-Presse reported quoted Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, the chief of staff to the president, as saying, “It is the judiciary which has passed the sentence and it is not the position of the government and the president.” He added, “We do not approve that Jafar Panahi cannot work for a long time based on this sentence.”

While the Iranian government denies any role in Panahi’s jailing, International protests and gestures of solidarity abound. On January 3, the London-based Cine Foundation International announced that they would launch “Films For Jafar Panahi; Human Rights Cinema Campaign,” consisting of six feature-length and 20 short protest films that call for the Panahi’s release. Acknowledging the politically treacherous nature of this subject, directors could participate anonymously. Prior to his detention, Panahi had been invited to sit on the jury for the 61st Berlin Festival’s Golden Bear Prize for best film. This month the festival is honoring the director by showing his films and holding a panel discussion on censorship in Iran.

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