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Film-makers release from Iran prison urged in new Amnesty campaign

Cannes Jury invitee Ja’far Panahi detained since March

Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of two Iranian filmmakers, Mohammad Ali Shirzadi and Ja'far Panahi, who are detained without charge or trial in Tehran’s Evin Prison, since their arrest in January and March 2010 respectively. Amnesty considers them to be prisoners of conscience, held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

Award-winning filmmaker Ja'far Panahi, aged 49, was arrested on 1 March at his Tehran home with his wife, daughter and several other people. All have since been released except for Ja'far Panahi. His wife was allowed to see him for the first time on 30 March.  On 14 April, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance said that Ja'far Panahi had been arrested because he was making an anti-government film about the disputed presidential election of 2009.

Ja'far Panahi was invited to participate on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival this year, but is banned from travelling abroad after his brief arrest in July 2009 at a Tehran cemetery gathering to mourn the death of Neda Agha Soltan, a young woman killed in the post-election protests.  Earlier this month, film directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford and Francis Ford Coppola called for his release.

Mohammad Ali Shirzadi, aged 39, was arrested by five unidentified men on 4 January outside his home in Tehran. His house was searched without a warrant and his computer, personal notebook and other items were confiscated.   His family had no news about his whereabouts for 40 days, after which he telephoned them to say he was all right, but did not reveal his location.  They later learned that he was being held in Evin Prison.  

He has so far been allowed two family visits, at which a security official was present, and he was unable to tell them the reasons for his arrest.  However, his family believe his arrest may be linked to an interview he filmed around two years ago, between prominent human rights defender Emadeddin Baghi and Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. The film was shown after Grand Ayatollah Montazeri died in December 2009.  Emadeddin Baghi was arrested shortly afterwards and has been in detention since.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“Free speech has been severely restricted in Iran since last year’s disputed elections, and thousands of people have been locked up: journalists, activists, students and demonstrators.

“Once again Iran is shaming itself on the international stage as it seeks to repress its own citizens and silence its critics.

“These men are prisoners of conscience, detained for the peaceful expression of their opinions. The Iranian authorities should release them immediately.”

Ja'far Panahi is a well-known film director who has made internationally-acclaimed films such as "the White Balloon" and "The Circle".  He is also a peace activist who is a member of the National Peace Council in Iran, a group set up in July 2008 on the initiative of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders, an NGO established by Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi and other prominent lawyers.  

Mohammad Ali Shirzadi is a member of the now-banned Association in Defence of Prisoners' Rights, founded by Emadeddin Baghi.

Amnesty International supporters are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mohammad Ali Shirzadi and Ja'far Panahi as they are held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and are prisoners of conscience. Amnesty is also concerned that Mohammad Ali Shirzadi was held incommunicado for 40 days, and is urging that family members of all detainees are informed promptly of their relatives' whereabouts and allowed to visit them regularly.

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