Petition supports jailed Iranian director

Festivals and film organizations in Europe are rapidly rallying in support of jailed dissident Iranian helmer Jafar Panahi.

Cannes Film Festival artistic topper Thierry Fremaux was among the first to get an online petition going following Monday’s news that Panahi, 50, has been sentenced to six years in prison by an Iranian court on vague charges of “propaganda against the system,” along with filmmaker and collaborator Mohammad Rasoulof. Panahi has also been banned from making films, writing scripts, traveling abroad or giving interviews for 20 years.

Lawyers for both men said they will appeal.

Groups behind the petition, which calls for the sentence to be lifted, include the Cinematheque Francaise, the Forum des Images, Cahiers du Cinema, the Venice Film Festival, the Locarno Film Festival and the Cinematheque Suisse.

“The truth is that Panahi is innocent and his only crime is wishing to continue to freely exercise his profession as a filmmaker in Iran,” the online petition says.

The Federation of European Film Directors, lead by prexy Istvan Szabo, called Iran’s actions a “disgraceful attempt at silencing a fellow film director.”

Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick, who this month invited Panahi to join the competition jury in February, said, “It is shocking that a renowned director is punished for his artistic work.”

Panahi is widely known outside Iran for his social commentary films, including “The Circle,” winner of the Venice Golden Lion in 2000; “Crimson Gold,” which won Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2003; and 2006’s “Offside.”

He was arrested in March at his home on unspecified charges. Panahi was later accused of making an anti-regime film about the aftermath of Iran’s disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. He was released on bail in May after Cannes drew attention to Panahi’s plight, who was on hunger strike, by inviting him to sit on its jury.

At the time industryites including Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone expressed outrage over Panahi’s arrest.

“It’s important that he knows we’re here,” Fremaux told AFP Monday. “What has happened shows that we had reason to take the threats against him seriously from their outset.”

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