Jailed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi says he is declaring a hunger strike until he is released from Iran’s infamous Evin prison, according to a statement shared yesterday by his wife, Tahereh Saeedi.
On July 12, Iranian authorities arrested Panahi on a 2010 charge of creating “propaganda against the system.” The 12-year-old charge carried a six-year jail sentence, but Panahi was only taken into custody last summer when he participated in a protest at Evin prison decrying the jailing of Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, two fellow filmmakers and government critics who had been arrested four days earlier.
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In October, Panahi’s lawyer successfully cited Iran’s 10-year statute of limitations and the country’s Supreme Court ruled that he could apply for a retrial. Panahi should have been released then, but Iranian authorities have kept him at Evin.
In his hunger strike announcement, Panahi pointed to the repeated implementation of “selective laws” and explained the illegality of his continued imprisonment. “It is only an excuse for repression,” the filmmaker wrote.
Panahi’s 2010 conviction also imposed a 20-year ban on leaving the country and creating films, but the director has continued to produce internationally acclaimed works, such as Taxi (2015), 3 Faces (2018), and No Bears (2022), which debuted in September at the Venice International Film Festival and won the Special Jury prize. Set in a small Iranian town, the movie interrogates ideas of strict cultural and religious traditionalism and touches on Panahi’s own freedom and exile.
Panahi had already been imprisoned for two months at the time of No Bear’s September release. Soon after, on September 16, Iran erupted into protests over the killing of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the nation’s “morality police” after she was detained for improperly wearing her hijab. The largely women-led demonstrations have swept the country over the past half year in protest of the Islamic Republic’s gender-based discrimination and authoritarian rule. Since the protests began, four men have been executed in public hangings, and as of January 18, at least 18 others have been sentenced to death.
On January 27, Amnesty International reported that three protesters awaiting execution — Javad Rouhi, Mehdi Mohammadifard, and Arshia Takdastan — had not only been handed “grossly unfair trials” but had also been tortured. As of February 1, the nonprofit organization Human Rights Activists reported 527 protesters killed and over 19,600 arrested since September. Many of those arrests have targeted writers and artists, and at least 40 filmmakers have been taken into custody.
“I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison,” Panahi said in his statement.