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Iranian Filmmaker Panahi to Be Freed on Bail, Judiciary Says

Iranian filmmaker and opposition supporter Jafar Panahi, who was invited to be a juror at the Cannes film festival, will be freed on bail, weeks after directors including Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese called for his release.

“It has been agreed for him to be released on bail and the legal process and the judicial steps are being followed,” Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi was quoted as saying yesterday by the state-run Iranian Students News Agency. He didn’t give a timeline for the release or the court proceedings.

Panahi, a supporter of Iran’s opposition movement that grew out of protests against last year’s disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was detained on March 2. Charges against him include making a movie without a permit and wearing a green scarf, a symbol of the opposition, at a film festival abroad, his wife, Tahereh Saeedi, said last month.

Saeedi, who was initially detained with Panahi and later released, has said he was planning to direct a film about the problems of a family of four amid the political unrest prompted by Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June 12 vote.

Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese were among directors who signed a petition last month urging the Iranian government to release Panahi, saying filmmakers in Iran “should be celebrated, not censored, repressed and imprisoned.”

Fellow Iranian film director, Abbas Kiarostami, who’s film “Certified Copy” premiered at the Cannes film festival, also made an appeal at the event last week for Panahi’s release, the Guardian reported.

‘Attack on Art’

“When a filmmaker is imprisoned, it is an attack on art as a whole,” Kiarostami told reporters, according to the newspaper. “We need explanations. I don’t understand how a film can be a crime, particularly when that film has not been made.”

French actress Juliette Binoche, who starred in Kiarostami’s film and won the best actress award for the role at Cannes, wept when she heard that Panahi started a hunger strike on May 16, Agence France-Presse reported. Binoche brandished a sign with the name of Panahi as she faced the audience after receiving her award, AFP said on May 23.

Several of Panahi’s films have been banned in Iran, including “Crimson Gold,” which looks at the privileges of Iran’s upper class through the eyes of a pizza-delivery man and won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. Also banned is “The Circle,” which portrays the harsh aspects of life for several women in the Islamic nation. It won the Golden Lion award at the 2000 Venice film festival.

More recently, Panahi won the second-highest award at the 2006 Berlin film festival with “Offside,” a comic tale about a government ban on women and girls attending soccer games.

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