After spending seven months in confinement, Iranian filmmaker and dissident Jafar Panahi has been released from prison. He had recently announced that he had begun a hunger stike, which attracted the support of many activists in the global film industry who are especially concerned about Iran’s harsh censorship policies and its treatment of women.
Upon Panahi’s release, his lawyer Saleh Nikbakht was quoted as saying: “Although I am happy about Mr. Panahi’s release, it must be said that his release should have taken place three months ago, following the acceptance of our objection to his previous court decision.”
The 62-year-old Panahi had been arrested in July of 2022 when he inquired about the arrest of two other directors. He was originally sentenced to six years in prison due to a ruling handed down in 2010. Though he successfully appealed the decision to Iran’s Supreme Court, no action was taken to release him until this week.
Panahi is known around the world for his direction of such acclaimed films as The Circle, Taxi, and No Bears. Among those applauding his release is The Berlin Film Festival, which awarded Taxi its Golden Bear award in 2015. “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 said on Friday. The filmmaker also won a Golden Lion at the Venice film festival in 2000 for his film The Circle, and in 2018, he won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for Three Faces.
During his imprisonment, Panahi was able to communicate via messages relayed from his cell by his wife. Last February, he complained that “This arrest was more like banditry and hostage-taking than the execution of a judicial sentence.” His wife also recently conveyed his statement about going on a hunger strike: “I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison.”
This is not the only recent case of political repression in Iran. In September, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody after her arrest for not wearing her hijab—an incident that sparked widespread protests throughout the country. It’s been reported that four protesters have already been executed, with another hundred on death row. In support of Mahsa Amini, the actor Taraneh Alidoosti published images of herself not wearing a headscarf, for which she was held in custody for three weeks, being released only in early January.