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Iranian Filmmaker Who Backs Opposition Freed on Bail

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

Panahi left pre-trial detention today following Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi’s approval, the state-run Mehr news agency said. The prosecutor referred the case to the Revolutionary Court, which deals with security offenses, Mehr said. A bail equivalent to $200,000 was posted, Panahi’s wife, Tahereh Saeedi, was quoted as saying earlier today by the Iranian Labour News Agency.

The filmmaker, a backer of the 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 said.

“He is fine,” Saeedi told Agence France-Presse by telephone after the release of her husband, who had started a hunger strike on May 16. “We are taking him to the doctor.”

Saeedi, who was 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.

Directors’ Petition

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, whose film “Certified Copy” premiered at the Cannes film festival, also made an appeal at the event last week for Panahi’s release.

“When a filmmaker is imprisoned, it is an attack on art as a whole,” Kiarostami told reporters. “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 Panahi was on a hunger strike. Binoche held a sign with Panahi’s name as she faced the audience after receiving her award.

Hunger Strike

Panahi, who was held in Tehran’s Evin jail, began to fast on May 16 after officials threatened to arrest his family and forced him and other inmates to stand outdoors naked for an hour and a half, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said in an e-mailed statement.

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 Cannes in 2003. 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.

Iran’s film industry and cultural circles include many supporters of former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who ran against Ahmadinejad last year and went on to become one of the main leaders of the opposition movement.

Panahi was banned in February from leaving the country, the opposition website Rahesabz said in March. Panahi had been briefly detained in July after he attended a ceremony at a cemetery to commemorate Neda Agha-Soltan, an opposition supporter killed during a post-election demonstration.

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