Iran filmmakers want hunger striker colleague freed

Sat May 22, 2010 6:34am EDT
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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian filmmakers called in an open letter for the release of internationally known director Jafar Panahi who is on hunger strike in a Tehran prison, the semi-official news agency ILNA said on Saturday.

"In view of the existing conditions for... Jafar Panahi, we the undersigners of this letter, a group of independent film makers, call for the freedom and speedy consideration of his conditions and his demands in prison," said the letter by 85 Iranian filmmakers sent to the Iranian government.

Panahi, winner of numerous international awards and a supporter of the opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi in last year's disputed presidential election, was arrested in early March and went on a hunger strike earlier this week.

He is protesting against conditions of his incarceration at the notorious Evin prison, demanding access to a lawyer, visitation rights by family members, and his unconditional release until a court hearing in held on his case.

Two senior French ministers called on Iran earlier this month to free Panahi so he could take up an invitation to sit on the jury of the Cannes film festival which opened on Wednesday.

Also on a hunger strike in Evin is Mohammad Nourizad, an Iranian writer and film director who, according to an opposition web site, was severely beaten by security personnel on Tuesday.

Nourizad was arrested late last year after he published on his blog three letters deemed disrespectful to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other senior officials.

Thousands of opposition supporters were detained after the presidential election. Most of them have since been freed but more than 80 people have been jailed for up to 15 years. Two people put on trial after the election have been executed.

(Writing by Hashem Kalantari; Editing by Mark Heinrich)