Jafar Panahi Sentenced to 6 Years in Jail, 20 Years of Silence

Shocking and terrible news from Tehran today. Farideh Gheirat, alawyer representing several of the politicians, journalists andartists detained during the protests that immediately followed the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential election, has told the ISNA news agency (as reported by Reuters and the AFP) that Jafar Panahi has been
sentenced to six years in jail and that his “social rights,” including “making movies, writing scripts, foreign travel and giving interviews to domestic and foreign media, have been taken away for 20 years.”

“Panahi, an outspoken supporter of Iran’s opposition green movement, was convicted of gathering, colluding and propaganda against the regime,” reports Saeed Kamali Dehghan. “Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia university, told the Guardian the sentence showed Iran’s leaders could not tolerate the arts. ‘This is a catastrophe for Iran’s cinema,’ he said. ‘Panahi is now exactly in the most creative phase of his life and by silencing him at this sensitive time, they are killing his art and talent.

Iran is sending a clear message by this sentence that they don’t have any tolerance and can’t bear arts, philosophy or anything like that. This is a sentence against the whole culture of Iran. They want the artists to sit at their houses and stop creating art. This is a catastrophe for a whole nation.”
Gheirat has announced that she will appeal this decision, so we do have some hope that this incredibly harsh sentence will not stand. Panahi was one of several mourners who’d gathered near the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan in a Tehran cemetery who were arrested in July 2009. So, too, was filmmaker Muhammad Rasoulof, who has also been sentenced
to six years today. When Panahi was released that summer, his passport was revoked and he was forbidden to leave the country. In March of this year, he was arrested again because, as the Iranian culture minister put it, he “was making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed election.” Throughout the ordeal,prominent filmmakers, film societies and festivals formally protested Panahi’s detainment, and finally, in May, he was released on bail.

The speech he delivered during his hearing in November has been widelycited and quoted, and you can read it in full at Current Conflicts.Here’s just a bit: “You are putting me on trial for making a filmthat, at the time of our arrest, was only 30 percent shot. You musthave heard that the famous creed, ‘There is no god, except Allah,’turns into blasphemy if you only say the first part and omit thesecond part. In the same vein, how can you establish that a crime has been committed by looking at 30 percent of the rushes for a film that has not been edited yet?… I, Jafar Panahi, declare once again that I am an Iranian, I am staying in my country and I like to work in my owncountry. I love my country, I have paid a price for this love too, andI am willing to pay again if necessary. I have yet another declaration to add to the first one. As shown in my films, I declare that I believe in the right of ‘the other’ to be different, I believe in
mutual understanding and respect, as well as in tolerance; the tolerance that forbid me from judgment and hatred. I don’t hate anybody, not even my interrogators.”

Earlier this month, TIFF Cinematheque ran a retrospective of Panahi’s work: “With five critically acclaimed and copiously awarded features to his name, Panahi is one of the major figures of the New Iranian cinema; once the prot�g� to Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi has forged a style and path all is own. His cohesive body of work owes much to Italian neo-realism, with his documentary style and preference for mostly non-professional actors, and a fierce belief in human and social rights.”

One of the films screened was The Accordian, a short that’s Panahi’s contribution to Then and Now: Beyond Borders and Differences, an omnibus film supported by the United Nations; the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September. Panahi: “The Accordion is the story of humankind�s materialistic need to survive in a pretentious
religion. In it, a boy is prevented from playing for reasons of religious prohibition, which he accepts in order to survive. But the main character of the film is the girl or, perhaps, in my view, the symbol of the next generation.”

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