Iranian director freed on bail after going on hunger strike

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was released on bail on Friday, two days after he went on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment last summer, his supporters said.

Panahi was arrested last July and subsequently sentenced to six years on charges of propaganda against the government, a sentence dating back to 2011 and which had never been carried out.

He is among a number of Iranian artists, sports figures and other celebrities who have been arrested after speaking out against the theocracy. Such arrests have become more frequent since nationwide protests erupted in September over the death of a young woman in police custody.

Panahi, 62, continued to make award-winning films for more than a decade despite being legally barred from traveling and directing. His latest film, “No Bears,” was released to widespread praise in September while he was behind bars, a week before the protests erupted.

Yusef Moulai, Panahi’s lawyer, confirmed that he had been released on bail and returned home. He said Panahi was in good health after two days without food. He declined to provide any further information.

The semi-official ISNA news agency said several artists greeted him as he left the notorious Evin prison in the capital, Tehran.

Panahi had released a statement earlier this week saying he would refuse food or medicine starting Wednesday “in protest against the extralegal and inhumane behavior of the judiciary and security apparatus”.

He was arrested in July when he went to the Tehran prosecutor’s office to investigate the arrests of two other Iranian filmmakers. A judge later ruled that he had to serve his previous sentence.

In “No Bears,” he plays a fictionalized version of himself as he makes a movie along the Iran-Turkey border. The New York Times and the Associated Press named it one of the 10 best films of the year, and film critic Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times named it the best film of 2022.

Protests erupted after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, died while being held by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code. The demonstrations quickly turned into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling clerics, a major challenge to their 40-year rule.

At least 527 protesters have been killed and more than 19,500 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been monitoring the unrest closely. Iranian authorities have not released official figures on deaths or arrests.

Several prominent Iranian filmmakers and other artists have expressed support for the protests and criticized the violent crackdown on dissent. Rights groups say authorities have used live ammunition, birdshot and tear gas to disperse protesters.

Iran has executed four men on charges linked to the protests, and rights groups say at least 16 others were sentenced to death in closed hearings.

Taraneh Alidoosti, the 38-year-old star of Asghar Farhadi’s 2016 Oscar-winning film ‘The Salesman’, was arrested in December after using social media to criticize the crackdown on protests. She was released three weeks later on bail.

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