Ahmadinejad not in favour of jail for filmmaker

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TEHRAN - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff has said the leader was not in favour of the jailing of renowned filmmaker Jafar Panahi, Fars news agency reported.

Panahi was last month handed a six-year prison sentence and a 20-year work ban for producing propaganda against the Islamic establishment.

The work ban applies to writing scripts, film-making and travelling abroad as well as giving interviews to local and foreign media.

“The sentence was issued by the judiciary and neither reflects my opinion nor that of the president,” said Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, considered to be the president’s closest aide.

The chief staff said that he and Ahmadinejad especially disliked the 20-year work ban and deemed it irrelevant.

Panahi’s lawyer, Farideh Gheyrat, has already filed an appeal and hopes to convince a higher court to overturn what she called a “very hefty verdict” imposed by a tribunal mainly in charge of national security offences.

Panahi and other Iranian filmmakers supported the opposition Green Movement, led by Mir-Hossein Moussavi, before and after the June 2009 presidential election which gave Ahmadinejad a second term.

Panahi accused the government of electoral fraud and refused to acknowledge the president’s re-election.

In 2006, Panahi won a Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival for Offside, a film about Iranian girls who disguised themselves as boys to watch the national football team in a World Cup qualification game.

He had also been invited to be a member of this year’s Berlinale jury. As a sign of solidarity with the jailed filmmaker, the Berlin Film Festival unveiled plans Tuesday to screen some of his films at next month’s event.

Iranian filmmakers have claimed that since Ahmadinejad became president in 2005, greater restrictions have been imposed on artists, especially filmmakers.

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