DUBAI, United Arab Emirates ( Associated Press) – Iran’s judiciary on Tuesday ordered one of the country’s leading filmmakers to serve a six-year prison sentence from a decade ago that was never enforced. The order comes as the government is trying to silence criticism amid growing economic turmoil and political pressure.
Iran’s judiciary spokesman Masoud Setayshi announced that the award-winning director, Zafar Panahi, perhaps Iran’s best-known film director, would serve his six-year prison sentence handed down in 2011 on charges of anti-government propaganda, in a final decision. That he said should have been implemented at that time.
Although Panahi was banned from traveling in previous years, the sentence was never enforced and he continued to make underground films, which received great acclaim overseas. They have won several festival awards including the 2015 Berlin Golden Bear for “Taxi”. His defiant films about poverty, sexism, violence and censorship in the Islamic Republic have long angered the government.
Authorities detained Panahi last week when he went to Tehran’s prosecutor’s office to inquire about the cases of detained disgruntled filmmakers, Mohamed Rasoulof and Mustafa al-Ahmad. Rasolof and al-Ahmad were blasted earlier this month for undermining the country’s security by protesting on social media for the government’s violent crackdown on unrest in the country’s southwest.
Panahi’s detention in Iran’s Avin prison drew widespread criticism from rights groups, highlighting the wave of repression that was affecting not only the country’s famed cinema industry but activists and protesters as well.
The government has stepped up its crackdown on dissent as it seeks to prevent the Iranian currency, the rial, from crashing. Talks with world powers to revive Tehran’s broken nuclear deal remain stalemate and frustration over the economic crisis deepens, with no sanctions relief in sight.