New Delhi: Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was released from jail on February 3, two days after he went on a hunger strike.
A master of his craft and an internationally renowned director, Panahi had long since been a target of the Iranian regime. His arrest in July 2022 had been decried globally, especially because he was detained when he went to the prosecutor’s office to inquire about the arrest of two of his fellow filmmakers, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-e Ahmad. The two had called on their country’s security forces to lay down their weapons during mass protests.
He was ordered to serve a six-year sentence for “propaganda against the system”. His sentence had been suspended after he served two months in 2010.
Since then, Panahi has been housed at the Evin prison. In the meantime, Iran saw widespread protests against the authoritarian regime, spurred by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, allegedly at the hands of the ‘morality police’ who sought to reprimand her over her headscarf slipping.
Along with Panahi’s hunger strike, news reports also centred on the hunger strike carried out by jailed dissident Farhad Meysami. BBC reported that Meysami, who has allegedly been refusing food for weeks in his demand for an end to the executions of protesters and to the government’s headscarf policy for women, and the release of political prisoners.
On Friday, after Panahi walked out, he briefly spoke to reporters and mentioned Meysami, likening his state to that of an Auschwitz survivor’s.
“I look behind me and there are so many students, teachers, workers, lawyers, activists still in there. How can I say I’m happy,” journalist Samira Mohyeddin tweeted Panahi as having said.
In 2010, Panahi was sentenced to six years in jail for attempting to create anti-government “propaganda” over the controversial 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
He was also barred from making films for 20 years and travelling outside Iran.
While he was not allowed to leave the country, Panahi had been largely confined to house arrest. He continued to make underground films without government approval. At least three of these films received international acclaim. The Iranian government even complained when Panahi’s film, Taxi won the Golden Lion in 2015.