Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been released on bail after starting a hunger strike to protest against his almost seven-month detention, supporters said on Friday.
The director, a winner at all the big European film festivals, had been arrested months before the current anti-regime protests erupted. But his imprisonment became a symbol of the plight of artists speaking out against the authorities.
Panahi has been released from Tehran’s Evin prison “two days after starting his hunger strike for freedom", the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said on Twitter, while Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper published an image of Panahi jubilantly embracing a supporter after being released on bail.
His wife Tahereh Saeedi posted a picture on Instagram of Panahi being driven from prison in a vehicle.
Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux expressed “great relief" at the news of his release.
“We do not forget all those, in Iran and around the world, who are subjected to violence and repression," he told AFP. “The Cannes Film Festival will always remain alongside artists from all over the world in defence of freedom."
‘Trapped in Iran’
The prize-winning director was arrested in July and went on a dry hunger strike on Wednesday to protest his continued detention.
“Mr Panahi was temporarily released from Evin prison with the efforts of his family, respected lawyers, and representatives of the cinema," Iran’s House of Cinema, which groups together industry professionals, said in a statement.
The announcement that Panahi was going on a dry hunger strike sparked a wave of concern across the world about the director, who has won prizes at all of Europe’s top three film festivals.
“Today, like many people trapped in Iran, I have no choice but to protest against this inhumane behaviour with my dearest possession — my life," Panahi had said in the statement published by his wife.
“I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison," he said.
‘Relief and joy’
Panahi, 62, was arrested on July 11 and had been due to serve a six-year sentence handed down in 2010 after his conviction for “propaganda against the system".
On October 15, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial, raising hopes among his legal team that he could be released, but he remained in prison.
Panahi won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his film “The Circle". In 2015, he won the Golden Bear in Berlin for “Taxi Tehran", and in 2018, he won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for “Three Faces".
Panahi’s latest film, “No Bears", which like much of his recent work stars the director himself, was screened at the 2022 Venice Film Festival when the director was already behind bars. It won the Special Jury Prize.
“It is extraordinary, a relief, a total joy. We express our gratitude to all those who mobilised yesterday," his French distributor, producer Michele Halberstadt, told AFP.
“His next fight is to have the cancellation of his sentence officially recognised. He’s outside, he’s free, and this is already great."
Panahi’s July arrest came after he attended a court hearing for fellow film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who had been detained a few days earlier.
Rasoulof was released from prison on January 7 after being granted a two-week furlough for health reasons and is still believed to be outside of jail.
Cinema figures have been among the thousands of people arrested by Iran in its crackdown on the protests sparked by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating its strict dress code for women.
Star actor Taraneh Alidoosti, who had published images of herself without wearing the Islamic headscarf, was among those detained, although she was released in early January after being held for almost three weeks.
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