Jafar Panahi Released From Prison After Going on Hunger Strike

Dissident Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been released from Tehran’s Evin prison, his wife Tahereh Saeidi has announced in an Instagram post.

The director was released on Friday two days after announcing he was going on a hunger strike to protest still being incarcerated after Iran’s supreme court last October had overturned a six-year sentence issued against the director in 2010 for “propaganda against the system.” That sentence had become obsolete due to the country’s 10-year statute of limitations. But the directors’ wife and lawyers said that Iranian security services were forcing the judiciary to keep him behind bars.

“Although I am happy about Mr. Panahi’s release, it must be said that it should have taken place three months ago,” the director’s lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said in a statement on Friday. He noted that Panahi should have been released on bail last Oct. 18, the day his sentence was overturned.

He is out on bail and his case will be reviewed in March, so the release could just be temporary, according to several sources.

Panahi, 62, is considered one of Iranian cinema’s greatest living masters. He is known globally for prizewinning works such as “The Circle,” “Offside,” “This is Not a Film,” “Taxi,” and most recently “No Bears,” winner of last year’s Venice’s Special Jury Prize.

The Berlin Film Festival, which awarded “Taxi” a Golden Bear prize in 2015, immediately issued a statement to express joy that Panahi has been freed. “We were very concerned for the health of Jafar Panahi and are now very glad that he has finally been released,”  Berlinale directors Mariëtte Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian jointly said.

The director was arrested last July in Tehran in the wake of the country’s conservative government crackdown. Panahi had gone to the Tehran’s prosecutor’s office to follow up on the situation of fellow dissident filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulov, who had been incarcerated a few days earlier after signing an appeal against police violence. He was arrested there and put behind bars on the spot.

Panahi and Rasoulov were detained in Tehran’s Evin prison for political prisoners before the wave of protests sparked in September by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was held in custody for allegedly wearing a loose hijab. Those protests have caused more than 500 civilians to be killed by government security forces and more than 100 members of the Iranian film industry to be arrested or banned from making movies. On Jan. 7, Rasoulov was granted a two-week release permit for health reasons, his lawyer told French news agency AFP. He is still on medical leave.

On Jan. 4, Iranian authorities released Taraneh Alidoosti, the star of Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning film “The Salesman,” almost three weeks after she was jailed for criticizing a crackdown on the anti-government protests.

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