By Stuart Braun

Deutsche Welle

The country's courts voided the dissident director's sentence last week, but Panahi is kept incarcerated in the notoriously harsh prison.

"I firmly declare that in protest against the illegal and inhumane behavior of the judicial and security apparatus and their hostage-taking, I have started a hunger strike since the morning of the 12th of Bahman (February 1)," wrote Panahi in a statement released by the filmmaker's wife, Tahereh Saeedi, and his son, Panah Panahi, on their Instagram accounts Wednesday evening, as first reported by film news site Deadline.

"I will refuse to eat and drink any food and medicine until the time of my release. I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison," added the director, who is detained in Iran's notorious Evin prison.

Panahi was arrested in July 2022 in Tehran and ordered to serve a six-year sentence for "propaganda against the system" that had been suspended after he served two months in 2010.

His jailing came after the Golden Bear-winning director questioned the recent arrest of fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad — who on social media had called on their country's security forces to lay down their weapons during mass protests.

Iran's Supreme Court then invalidated Panahi's arrest in October, as the sentence had already passed Iran's 10-year statute of limitations period and was no longer applicable.

It was expected last week that the acclaimed filmmaker would be released on bail pending a retrial, but Iranian authorities have blocked his liberation process until now, which "is only an excuse for repression," Panahi told Deadline.

"By law, he should immediately be released on bail and his case reviewed again," his lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told AFP.

Meanwhile, Rasoulof was already released from prison on January 7 after being granted a two-week furlough for health reasons, Nikbakht said.

A composite of three photos of middle-aged men,  Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alahmad.A composite of three photos of middle-aged men,  Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alahmad.

Since 2010, Panahi has been banned from leaving Iran and from filmmaking and even writing scripts for 20 years.

Nonetheless, he has since directed five award-winning films by stealth, including his latest, the semi-autobiographical "No Bears" that won the special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival last October.

Ahead of the "No Bears" premiere in Venice, a protest on the red carpet led by Jury President Julianne Moore called for the release of its director. In a letter sent from prison, Panahi thanked supporters for "making noise" about the locking up of artists, but warned that the crackdown will continue.

The protests and subsequent wave of repression began when the Iranian regime tightened the hijab laws for women. The policy arguably led to the death of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, Jina Mahsa Amini, on September 17 while in the custody of morality police — she had been picked up for not wearing the hijab correctly.

Amini's suspected murder was the trigger for subsequent and continuing mass protests that Panahi has also supported from prison.

More than 500 protesters have been killed in the crackdown since September 17, according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran, and over 18,000 people have been detained.

Panahi's son Panah Panahi believes his father has been locked up as a warning to others.

"They want to keep the other artists silent by imprisoning Jafar," he told the Hollywood Reporter. "In general, this regime tries to imprison, from every field, a thought leader who is concerned about Iran and protests to serve as an example to others to keep their mouths shut." >>>