Iran to free filmmaker Panahi on bail: Prosecutor

Panahi, a vocal backer of Iran`s opposition movement, was nabbed on March 1.

Tehran: Celebrated Iranian film director Jafar Panahi, who has been jailed since March, is to be freed on bail, Tehran`s public prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said on Monday.

ISNA news agency cited the prosecutor as saying that administrative and judicial steps for Panahi`s release were underway.

"It has been decided that he (Panahi) will be freed on bail," the prosecutor was quoted as saying, before adding he had met Panahi at Tehran`s notorious Evin prison on Thursday.

"During the meeting his request to be released before the trial was examined and accepted," the prosecutor said. He did not give any details on the bail conditions.

Panahi, 49, is a vocal backer of Iran`s opposition movement who was arrested at his home on March 01 along with 16 other people, including his wife and daughter. Most were subsequently released.

Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini said in April that Panahi was detained for making an "anti-regime" film about the unrest that rocked Iran after last year`s disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

News of his imminent release came after reports he had started a hunger strike in jail about 10 days ago in protest against the conditions of his detention, demanding to be released until a trial date is set.

It also came a day after the conclusion of the 63rd Cannes film festival which he had been invited to attend as part of the jury that decides the winner of the festival`s top prize, the Palme d`Or.

Panahi is known for his gritty, socially critical movies such as the `Circle`, which bagged the 2000 Venice Golden Lion award, `Crimson Gold`, and `Offside`, winner of the 2006
Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival.

In February, the authorities banned Panahi from leaving the country to attend the Berlin film festival.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor said charges against Panahi would be submitted to the Tehran revolutionary court pending his trial. He did not elaborate.

Repeated calls for Panahi`s release have been made since his arrest, including at Cannes.

On Saturday, ILNA news agency quoted a letter signed by 85 mostly young and upcoming Iranian directors as saying: "The undersigned, a group of independent film-makers, want the release of Jafar Panahi and quick action on his situation and demands in jail."

The Cannes film festival and the French government condemned the jailing of Panahi, and French actress Juliette Binoche wept when she heard that Panahi was on hunger strike.


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