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Virginia M. Moncrieff

Virginia M. Moncrieff

Posted: May 25, 2010 09:37 AM

One Iranian Prisoner Released -- But Many Thousands to Go

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It was a campaign that mobilized thousands of the rigorously non-political on social media, seasoned human rights campaigners and international film glitterati. The efforts to free Iranian film director Jafar Panahi came to a brilliant end today when he walked out of the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, released on bail.

It was never clear why Mr Panahi was detained - various reasons were given over the two months of his incarceration (threatening public morals and treason were the general tone of the accusations) - but it is clear that the soft spoken, strong headed director posed a threat to a regime that likes to have its hands firmly round the throat of its citizens.

The movement to free Jafar Panahi grew spontaneously but quickly. His films are popular in the west for their unflinching but often humorous look at life in Iran.

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Many doubted that a facebook and twitter campaign, worldwide screenings of Jafar Panahi films, petitions from Hollywood directors and Juliette Binoche crying at Cannes would have any effect at all on Tehran.

On twitter, film critic Roger Ebert said as much. Today he was happy to tweet that he was wrong. "I thought protest petitions would do Iran's jailed Jafar Panahi a fat lot of good. I was wrong, and I'm happy I was."

But Professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia , Hamid Dabashi always believed that the movement would be successful. He told the Huffington Post that "the global outcry, especially during Cannes, has been the sole reason" for Mr Panahi's release. "Otherwise like hundreds of other nameless and faceless political prisoners he would still be in jail."

The release of Mr Panahi on bail is a wonderful day for those who prayed for his release. But no one can forget the many thousands of other political prisoners in Iranian jails. Sham trials, torture, deprivation, humiliation and inhuman living conditions inside a cramped jail is a daily threat to Iranians who wish to express their feelings and live free and with dignity.

"The laws of the country as stipulated by the regime are not being adhered to and international norms are being violated (by) the Iranian regime against its citizens," says exiled film maker, Babak Payami.

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Both Mr Payami and Professor Dabashi are convinced that the opposition Green Movement are a genuine threat to the regime and that Tehran is rattled.

"The regime is caught between a rock and a hard place," says Professor Dabashi. "It cannot crush the Green Movement. It will strengthen it if it tries to crush it; it will strengthen it if it yields to it. The Islamic Republic may have let go of Jafar Panahi; but Jafar Panahi will not let go of the Islamic Republic. "

Jafar Panahi is free, for now. The fight goes on.

Update : Jafar Panahi released this message on his release : I'm freed beside my family and I believe more and more that : Cinema is Cinema. I thank you all.

 

Follow Virginia M. Moncrieff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vmmoncrieff