Jafar Panahi is one of the most acclaimed film directors in the world. Admirers like myself were horrified and astonished at the news, announced yesterday, that Jafar Panahi had been sentenced not only to six years in prison, but to an unimaginable twenty-year total ban on all his artistic activities—including film making, script writing, traveling outside the country and speaking with the media.
He was convicted by a Revolutionary Court of “propaganda against the system” for having exercised his right to peaceful freedom of expression through his film-making and political activism. He was specifically accused of making an anti-government film without permission and inciting opposition protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election. Mr. Panahi’s artistic collaborator, Mohammad Rasoulof, was also sentenced to six years in prison.
Jafar Panahi is the director of such masterpieces of Iranian cinema as “Badkonake Sefid” (White Balloon), “Dayareh” (Circle), for which he won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, “Talayeh Sorkh” (Crimson Gold), and “Offside.” He was detained in Evin Prison in Tehran for nearly three months following his arrest at his home on 1 March 2010. While in prison he carried out a hunger strike to protest his degrading treatment, including being forced to stand outside in the cold with no clothing. He was invited to be a judge at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010 but was in detention during the entire festival. His absence was recognized by the presence of an empty chair meant for him in prominent view on the stage throughout the festival.
For those who are as outraged as I am, I strongly encourage you to take action immediately to protest this travesty of justice to the Iranian authorities. If only this were an isolated case, but sadly, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof are two more (albeit prominent) victims of a vicious and unrelenting campaign by the Iranian government to stamp out any dissenting voices—whether they be artistic, political, journalistic, advocacy or academic. In response, Amnesty International is pursuing its own campaign to highlight the cases of prisoners of conscience languishing in Iran.
While speaking at his trial in Tehran in November, Jafar Panahi said, “I, Jafar Panahi, declare once again that I am an Iranian, I am staying in my country and I like to work in my own country. I love my country, I have paid a price for this love too, and I am willing to pay again if necessary.” Would that the authorities in Iran recognized Jafar Panahi for the distinction and honor he brings his country.