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Wed 19 May 2010 11:29 AM

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Iranian filmmaker goes on prison hunger strike

Jafar Panahi, who is being held in Tehran’s Evin jail, began to fast May 16 - rights group.

Iranian filmmaker goes on prison hunger strike
FILM MAKER: Panahi is an award-winning director whose films explore life under the rule of Iran’s Shiite Muslim clerics. (Getty Images)

A prize-winning filmmaker detained in Iran over his support for the opposition has gone on a hunger- strike to protest his ill-treatment, a human rights group said. Jafar Panahi, who is being held in Tehran’s Evin jail, began to fast May 16 after officials threatened to arrest his family and forced him and other inmates to stand outdoors naked for one and a half hours, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said in an e-mailed statement.

“I swear upon the cinema in which I believe, that I will not stop my hunger strike until my demands are met,” Panahi, who has been detained since March, said in a letter released by the New York-based group. The filmmaker, 49, demanded access to his family, a lawyer and release on bail.

Leading Hollywood directors including Stephen Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, in a petition last month urged the Iranian government to release Panahi, saying filmmakers in Iran “should be celebrated, not censored, repressed and imprisoned.”

Opposition claims of vote-rigging in last June’s elections that secured President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term triggered the biggest public protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Officials said about 5,000 people were arrested during the demonstrations, many of them later released on bail.

Panahi is an award-winning director whose films explore life under the rule of Iran’s Shiite Muslim clerics. Several of his films, which have been criticized by the authorities for depicting a negative side of Iran, have been banned from being shown in the country. The vetting of productions and censorship has been stepped up under Ahmadinejad, who first took office in 2005.

Panahi’s prohibited films include “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 in Iran is Panahi’s “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 lost to Ahmadinejad in the disputed June election.

Panahi had been briefly detained in July last year after he attended a ceremony at a cemetery to commemorate Neda Agha- Soltan, an opposition supporter killed during a post-election demonstration.

The charges against Panahi include making a movie without a permit and wearing a green scarf indicating support for the opposition “Green Movement,” in a film festival abroad, his wife, Tahereh Saeedi, said April 12.