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Filmmaker released after being held for months in Iran

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; 3:15 PM

TEHRAN -- World-renowned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, arrested after he was accused of making a movie about post-election turmoil in Iran without a government permit, was released Tuesday on $200,000 bail, his lawyer said.

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Panahi, who had been on a hunger strike for the last week, was quickly taken for a medical examination.

Panahi's arrest in March caused international condemnation. It was widely seen as an attempt to intimidate the active community of film directors and artists in Iran, many of whom support the now largely dormant grass-roots opposition movement. But instead of being silenced, the director wrote a letter from prison and his family received visits from opposition figures and influential artists.

The filmmaker was arrested along with 20 others, during what state media says were the final stages of making a movie about the street unrest that followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's June reelection. Between 30 and 70 people were killed in the clashes, and hundreds were arrested.

Panahi's lawyer, Farideh Gheirat, said had not been allowed to visit her client, except very briefly on Thursday. She said Panahi, 50, will now await trial on the charges, in which a verdict could "take months, even years."

Several directors and actors -- including American icons Steven Spielberg and Robert Redford, but also Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami -- had called upon Iranian authorities to release Panahi, whose films often examine social issues faced by women and the lower classes in the Islamic republic.

Panahi had been slated to sit on the jury of the 2010 Cannes film festival, which ended in France on Sunday. He rarely received official government permits for shooting his movies, which were not allowed to be screened in Iranian cinemas. Pirated copies of the films, however, are widely available in Tehran.

International critics have often lauded Panahi's films. He was awarded the top prize at the 2000 Venice film festival for "The Circle," which is about the lives of Iranian women.

Recently, Iranian officials have announced new censorship rules which call for filmmakers to obtain licenses before they can show their movies to foreign audiences.

According to Panahi's lawyer, international and domestic pressure were crucial in getting Panahi released on bail. "The world wants them to speed up the judicial process," Gheirat said.

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