The Associated Press is reporting that Iran has released filmmaker Jafar Panahi on $200,000 (US) bail Tuesday after more than two months in custody. Islamic Republic officials had initially charged Mr. Panahi with "unspecified crimes." They since reversed themselves, and the charges now allege that he was making a film against the regime, which is a very serious accusation in Iran. Panahi's films have not been allowed to screen in the Islamic Republic for the past decade and he's not been allowed to work for the past four years, though he continued to live in Iran.
Earlier this month, a group of filmmakers - including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, Terrence Malick, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen Bros., Jim Jarmusch, Michael Moore, Ang Lee, Robert De Niro, and Oliver Stone - called on the Iranian governmen to release director Panahi (director of "The White Balloon" and "Offside") who was arrested at his home in March and was being held in the capital Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
In Cannes this past week (where Panahi had been asked to be on the jury but was not freed from prison to do so), there had been confusion surrounding an announcement that Panahi would be freed. The news was contrasted by other rumors that Panahi's incarceration may be extended and that the filmmaker would in fact begin a hunger strike. At the time, fellow Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami spoke out against Panahi's imprisonment and the Iranian governments censorship of cinema. "In March, I published an open letter that only appeared in one site in Iran and in the New York Times in the USA," he said. "In it, I alluded to Jafar Panahi's situation, but also all Iranian independent filmmakers who are held and cannot work. The responsibility is on the authorities who keep them imprisoned. If Jafar remains in jail then at least we need an explanation. How can a filmmaker be held for a film and even a film that has not even made?"
Tuesday's decision to free Panahi comes a week after it became clear the rumors he would be released were untrue, and after the filmmaker did in fact begin a hunger strike and demanded to be allowed to see his family, meet with a lawyer and be set free pending trial. Panahi had noted this in a chilling letter to Abbas Baktiari, director of the Pouya cultural center:
I hereby declare that I have been subject to ill treatment in Evin prison.
On Saturday May 15, 2010, prison guards suddenly entered our cell, n° 56. They took us away, my cell mates and I, made us strip and kept us in the cold for an hour and a half.
Sunday morning, they brought me to the interrogation room and accused me of having filmed the interior of my cell, which is completely untrue. Then they threatened to imprison my entire family at Evin and to mistreat my daughter in an unsafe prison in the city of Rejayi Shahr.
I have eaten and drunk nothing since Sunday morning, and I declare that if my wishes are not respected, I will continue to abstain from drinking and eating. I do not want to be a rat in a laboratory, victim of their sick games, threatened and psychologically tortured.
My wishes are :
- The possibility to contact and see my family, and the complete assurance that they are safe.
- The right to retain and communicate with an attorney, after 77 days of imprisonment.
- Unconditional liberty until the day of my judgment and the final verdict
- Finally, I swear upon what I believe in, the cinema: I will not cease my hunger strike until my wishes are satisfied.
My final wish is that my remains be returned to my family, so that they may bury me in the place they choose.
Iran has detained more than 80 political activists and figures accused of fomenting post-election unrest since August, sentencing them to death and prison terms, from six months to 15 years. Last summer, Panahi had been briefly detained after he was arrested along with his wife and daughter at a ceremony where mourners gathered to commemorate slain election protesters.