(AFP) – May 15, 2010
CANNES, France — Jailed Iranian director Jafar Panahi on Saturday protested he was innocent of making films against Iran's leaders, in a letter from his prison cell made public at the Cannes film festival.
"I am innocent. I have not made any film against the Iranian regime," he said in the message read out at the top of the festival hall's red-carpeted steps, part of it by France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand.
Panahi, 49, has been held in the notorious Evin prison since March 1, when he was detained by Iranian authorities, reportedly because he was making a film about the disputed 2009 presidential election.
"I will no sign no confession that is forced by threats," he said in his letter, thanking France for fighting for him to be freed.
"Warm greetings from my narrow and dark cell in Evin prison," he said, hailing those who "along with my wife, my children and all my countrymen who come and visit me from outside, are working for me to be freed."
His current detention prevented him from coming to Cannes where he had been invited to sit on the jury that names the winner of the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or.
On Wednesday the head of the jury, US director Tim Burton, joined calls for Panahi's release and the jury left a seat symbolically empty for Panahi on stage at its gala opening.
Mitterrand and France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that day also urged Iran to release the film-maker. Iran has not responded publicly to their calls.
Iranian films have blossomed in recent decades thanks to Panahi and several other world-renowned auteurs such as Abbas Kiarostami, but state censorship under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes it hard for them to work in Iran.
The June 2009 re-election of Ahmadinejad prompted huge street protests which led to deadly clashes with security forces and mass arrests.
"Let us not forget the thousands of other defenceless prisoners" in Iran, Panahi added. "Like me, they have committed no crime and my blood is not more important than theirs."
On Thursday in Cannes, festival organisers screened a clip of Panahi describing a police interrogation he underwent some time before his latest arrest.
In the three-minute excerpt, Panahi said an Iranian security official interrogated him for three hours before releasing him with a threat of further questioning.
"As I left, he said I would be summoned again," Panahi said in the clip. "He asked me, 'Why do you stay in Iran? Why don't you make films abroad?"
Kiarostami has a film titled "Certified Copy" in competition for the Palme this year. It was shot in Italy -- the first film he has made outside Iran.
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