Iranian film director Jafar Panahi, who had been on hunger strike for a week in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, was released on bail on Tuesday afternoon. One of our Observers in Tehran, who met Panahi before he was detained, says that the Iranian government must have been "shocked" by the involvement of French actress Juliette Binoche and her colleagues.

Panahi was jailed on 1 March for allegedly planning a film about Iran's contested election last June, which saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reinstated.

The acclaimed film director was supposed to be a juror at the Cannes Film Festival, which began on 12 May. At the launch of the festival, the French government called on Iran to release Panahi so that he could take his seat as a member of the jury.

A week later, the calls were followed by renowned film-maker Abbas Kiarostami, who appealed to the Iranian government in an open letter. He was supported by French actress Juliette Binoche, who recently worked alongside Panahi.

On Monday - a day after the end of Cannes - it emerged that Panahi's wife had paid two billion rials (around 165,000 euros) for his bail. On Tuesday afternoon, he was released.

Meeting Panahi

Alireza met Panahi as part of an art project in which he asked him, along with other Iranian artists, to sign their own T-shirts for an exhibition. Photos by Mania Karimianpur.

“I’m sure when the Iranian authorities detained Panahi they didn’t think the Cannes Film Festival would get involved”

Alireza, who met Panahi before his detention, has been following his case up to his release.

There are two factors that I believe secured his release.

 

  1. The calls for his release by Juliette Binoche and Abbas Kiarostami. That must have come as a big shock to the government. I'm sure when they detained Panahi they didn't think the Cannes Film Festival would get involved in his case. It was very influential. Plus, Kiarostami is very discreet and never usually gets involved in any political disputes. Panahi supporters were overjoyed to hear he had spoken out about this.
  2. His hunger strike.

The authorities haven't said anything about the case since his arrest; not even what they're charging him with. It's a very opaque case. What happens normally with cases like these is that if the accused manages to obtain bail, then the authorities spend a few months compiling ‘evidence', and then issue them with a summons. In that time he won't be allowed to leave Tehran.

Sadly, I doubt this case will make any difference to others detained for similar reasons. Panahi is very famous and the whole world was focused on him. This is not a good time for those still detained anyway, especially students. With the anniversary of the election coming up the government is tightening up.

The international reaction to Panahi's release will have some effect on what happens to him next. Let's hope the case is solved without him having to return to jail. Even if he's acquitted he won't leave the country. He could go to Hollywood, Italy, France... But he loves Iran too much."