Iranian film director goes on hunger strike in prison

Iranian film director goes on hunger strike in prison

An Iranian director who was arrested last summer – weeks before his last film was released to critical acclaim – has gone on a hunger strike to protest his continued detention amid more than four months of anti-government protests.

Jafar Panahi, whose films have wowed critics and won numerous international awards, issued a statement saying he would refuse food and medicine “in protest of the extra-legal and inhumane behavior of the judicial and security apparatus”.

He is among a number of Iranian artists, athletes and other celebrities who have been arrested after speaking out against Iran’s theocracy.

Such arrests have become more frequent since nationwide protests broke out in September over the death of a young woman in police custody.

Jafar Panahi in Venice in 2000 (Allstar Picture Library/Alamy/PA)

Panahi, 62, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2011 on charges of producing anti-government propaganda, but the sentence was never carried out.

Barred from both traveling and filmmaking, he continued to make underground films, which were released abroad to great acclaim.

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.

His latest film No Bears, in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself while filming a film along the Iran-Turkish border, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September, a week before the protests began.

The New York Times and Associated Press named it one of the top 10 films of the year, while film critic Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times named it the best film of 2022.

The protests erupted after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while being held by Iran’s morality police for allegedly flouting the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

The demonstrations quickly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling clerics, a major challenge to their four-decade rule.

Around 100 people took part in a protest in the western Iranian city of Abdanan on Wednesday, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

Five “rioters” were said to have been slightly injured when security forces intervened and ten people had been arrested.

Iran severely restricts media access to demonstrations and regularly shuts down the internet, making it difficult to confirm specific incidents or gauge the extent of ongoing demonstrations.

At least 527 protesters have been killed and more than 19,500 people arrested since the demonstrations began, according to human rights activists in Iran, a group that has been closely monitoring the unrest.

The Iranian authorities have not released any official figures on deaths or arrests.

Taraneh Alidoosti, the 38-year-old star of Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning 2016 film The Salesman, was arrested in December after she took to social media to criticize the crackdown on protests.

She was released on bail three weeks later.

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