Berlinale leaves chair empty for imprisoned Jafar Panahi

Berlin: One of the jury chairs at the Berlin International Film Festival will be left empty as a mark of protest against the imprisonment of renowned filmmaker Jafar Panahi by the Iranian regime.

The filmmaker, who has been sentenced to six years and banned from filmmaking for the next 20 years, was to serve on the jury at Berlinale this year. Cannes festival jury had held a similar protest last year.

"The Berlin International Film Festival very strongly condemns the harsh sentences imposed on Jafar Panahi and his colleague director Mohammad Rasoulof. The Berlinale is holding a place open in the Jury for Jafar Panahi to signalize its support for his struggle for freedom," the festival said on its website.

"We invited Jafar Panahi to be on the International Jury in 2011. But then in December 2010 he was sentenced to six years imprisonment and banned from filmmaking for the next 20 years. We are going to use every opportunity to protest against this drastic verdict," said festival director Dieter Kosslick.

Berlinale will also screen Panahi`s films like `Off Side`, `The Circle` and `The White Balloon` in different sections of the festival, which runs from February 10 to 20.

The festival is also organising a panel discussion entitled "Censored Cinema" with Iranian filmmakers and artists on censorship, and the restriction of freedom of opinion and expression in Iran.

Panahi has been outspoken in his support of Iran`s opposition movement, earning the wrath of the government. He was convicted of colluding in gathering and making propaganda against the regime in December last year.