Jafar Panahi is back in prison. The acclaimed Iranian director
, one of the leading figures in the Iranian New Wave
, was jailed this week
for six years — and banned from filmmaking for 20 years — after his prosecution for allegedly working on a film about the disputed Iranian presidential election of 2009. (The New Republic recently trumpeted
his status as "the filmmaker laureate of The Green Movement
.") Another filmmaker, Muhammad Rasoulof, received a six-year sentence on similar charges. "This is a catastrophe for Iran's cinema,"
Columbia University professor Hamid Dabashi told the Guardian
Panahi is no stranger to Iranian prisons. He was arrested in 2009 after attending a memorial for Neda Agha-Soltan
, who was killed during the protests following the disputed Iranian elections. He was eventually barred from leaving the country, which meant he could not accept an invitation to appear at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival. (He has just been invited
to that festival again.)
He spent three months in prison earlier this year, after his house was raided by agents of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. His release was sought by filmmakers from Iran and beyond. He was meant to occupy the only empty chair among the jury members for the 2010 Cannes Film Festival; Village Voice
critic J. Joberman reported that Juliette Binoche wept
upon hearing that he wouldn't be released in time to attend a May 18 festival screening of Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy
. (It looks like the Cannes fest's artistic director Thierry Fremaux, is once again trying to mobilize support
for the filmmaker.) His jail time extended, Panahi went on hunger strike
to protest his treatment, demanding the opportunity to contact his family, the right to see an attorney, and freedom from prison pending a decision on his case. In a declaration
, he wrote, "I swear upon what I believe in, the cinema: I will not cease my hunger strike until my wishes are satisfied." He was released on May 25.
Speaking to the court in his own defense
on November 12, the filmmaker said he was being unfairly prosecuted based on the government's review of raw footage from an incomplete project: "The famous creed, 'There is no god, except Allah,' turns into blasphemy if you only say the first part and omit the second part. In the same vein, how can you establish that a crime has been committed by looking at 30 percent of the rushes for a film that has not been edited yet?" He concluded by declaring his love for his country and his concern for future generations of Iranians, noting, "The space given to Jafar Panahi's festival awards in Tehran's Museum of Cinema
is much larger than his cell in prison."