Jailed Iran filmmaker Jafar Panahi on hunger strike to last until ‘perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison’

The name tag and empty seat of Iranian director Jafar Panahi on May 13, 2018, are pictured prior to a press conference for the film “3 Faces (Se Rokh)” at the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. Panahi, who has been jailed for the past six months, said he has begun a hunger strike to protest his detention, according to a statement published by his wife Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. LAURENT EMMANUEL / AFP

PARIS—Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has been jailed for the past six months, said he has begun a hunger strike to protest his detention, according to a statement published by his wife Thursday, Feb. 2.

Panahi, whose films have won prizes at all of Europe’s main film festivals, was arrested in July even before the current wave of protests that have shaken the regime started in September.

There were expectations last month that the judiciary could order his release, but he remains behind bars in Tehran’s Evin prison.

He started his dry hunger strike, refusing food and water, from Wednesday, he said in the statement.

“Today, like many people trapped in Iran, I have no choice but to protest against this inhumane behavior with my dearest possession—my life,” said Panahi.

“In protest against the illegal and inhumane behavior of the judicial and security apparatus and this hostage-taking, I have started a dry hunger strike as of February 1. I will refuse to eat and drink any food and medicine until the time of my release.

“I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison.”

Panahi, 62, was arrested on July 11 and had been due to serve a six-year sentence handed down in 2010 after his conviction for “propaganda against the system.”.

But on Oct. 15, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial, raising hopes among his legal team he could be released.

‘Non-violent struggle’

Panahi won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his film “The Circle”. In 2015, he won the Golden Bear at Berlin for “Taxi Tehran,” and in 2018, he won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for “Three Faces.”

“We stand in solidarity with Iranians fighting for their rights, condemn his arrest and call for his release,” the Berlin Film Festival wrote on Twitter.

In France, the ARP and SRF associations of filmmakers said Panahi had started his hunger strike in response to his persecution “by the oppressive and freedom-killing Iranian authorities.”

“We must collectively answer this cry for help,” they said, calling for his immediate release.

The Cannes Film Festival said it “reaffirms its full support (for Panahi) by demanding, like many artists, festivals and organizations around the world, his immediate release.”

Panahi’s latest film, “No Bears,” which like much of his recent work stars the director himself, was screened at the 2022 Venice Film Festival when the director was already behind bars. It won the special jury prize.

Panahi’s July arrest came after he attended a court hearing for fellow film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who had been detained a few days earlier.

Rasoulof was released from prison on Jan. 7 after being granted a two-week furlough for health reasons and is still believed to be outside of jail.

Cinema figures have been among the thousands of people arrested by Iran in its crackdown on the protests sparked by the Sept. 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating its strict dress code for women.

Star actress Taraneh Alidoosti, who had published images of herself without wearing the Islamic headscarf, was among those detained although she was released in early January after being held for almost three weeks.

In a sign of the perils of hunger strikes, rights activists on Thursday posted pictures of the emaciated body of campaigner and medical doctor Farhad Meysami, serving a five year sentence, who has been refusing food.

“This painful image is a symbol of the non-violent struggle of the Iranian people to achieve fundamental human rights,” said the director of the Norway-based Iran Human Rights group Mahmood Amiry Moghaddam, saying Meysami had been on hunger strike since October.  /ra