DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi was released on bail Friday, two days after going on hunger strike to protest his imprisonment last summer, his supporters said.
Panahi was arrested last July and later ordered to serve six years on charges of propagandising against the government, a sentence dating back to 2011 that had never been enforced.
He is among a number of Iranian artists, sports figures and other celebrities who have been detained after speaking out against the theocracy. Such arrests have become more frequent since nationwide protests broke out in September over the death of a young woman in police custody.
Panahi, 62, had continued making award-winning films for over a decade despite being legally barred from travel and filmmaking. His latest film, ‘No Bears’, was released to widespread praise in September while he was behind bars, a week before the protests erupted.
Yusef Moulai, Panahi’s lawyer, confirmed he had been released on bail and returned home. He said Panahi was in good health after two days without food. He declined to provide further information.
The semi-official ISNA news agency said several artists had welcomed him as he departed the notorious Evin Prison in the capital, Tehran.
Panahi had issued a statement earlier this week saying he would refuse food or medicine starting Wednesday “in protest against the extra-legal and inhumane behaviour of the judicial and security apparatus.”
He was arrested in July when he went to the Tehran prosecutor’s office to inquire about the arrests of two other Iranian filmmakers. A judge later ruled that he must serve the earlier sentence.
In ‘No Bears’, he plays a fictionalised version of himself while making a film along the Iran-Turkey border. The New York Times and The Associated Press named it one of the top 10 films of the year, and film critic Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times called it 2022’s best movie.
The protests erupted after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, died while being held by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code. The demonstrations rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling clerics, a major challenge to their four-decade rule.
At least 527 protesters have been killed and more than 19,500 people have been detained since the demonstrations began, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has closely monitored the unrest. Iranian authorities had not, up to Friday, released official figures on deaths or arrests.
Several prominent Iranian filmmakers and other artists have expressed support for the protests and criticised the violent crackdown on dissent. Rights groups say authorities have used live ammunition, birdshot and teargas to disperse protesters.
Iran has executed four men on charges linked to the protests, and rights groups say at least 16 others have been sentenced to death in closed-door hearings.
Taraneh Alidoosti, the 38-year-old star of Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning 2016 film, ‘The Salesman’, was arrested in December after taking to social media to criticise the crackdown on protests. She was released three weeks later on bail.