File picture taken on August 30, 2010 shows Iranian film director Jafar Panahi posing during an interview with AFP in Tehran. Panahi has been sentenced to six years in jail and banned from making films and leaving the country for 20 years, his lawyer said on December 20, 2010. – Photo by AFP

TEHRAN: Celebrated Iranian filmmaker and vocal backer of the opposition movement, Jafar Panahi, has been handed six years in jail and banned from making films and leaving Iran for 20 years, his lawyer said Monday.

“Mr. Panahi has been sentenced to six years in jail on a charge of (participating) in a gathering and carrying out propaganda against the system,”Farideh Gheirat told ISNA news agency.

“His social rights, which include a ban on making movies, writing scripts, foreign travel and giving interviews to domestic and foreign media, have been taken away for 20 years.”Gheirat said she will appeal against the ruling.

Another young Iranian director, Mohammad Rasoulof, who was making a movie with Panahi before his arrest, has also been sentenced to six years in jail on similar charges, his lawyer Iman Mirzadeh told ISNA.

Panahi was arrested on March 1 along with his wife, daughter and several others at his home. Most of those arrested were subsequently released. He was freed on a bail of around 200,000 US dollars in May.

Soon after his arrest, Iranian officials said he was detained for making an “anti-regime” film about the unrest which rocked Iran after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.

Panahi told AFP in September that the film he was shooting along with Rasoulof was about a “family and the post-election developments.”Panahi had said that “when a filmmaker does not make films it is as if he is jailed. Even when he is freed from the small jail, he finds himself wandering in a larger jail.

“The main question is: why should it be a crime to make a movie? A finished film, well, it can get banned but not the director,” Panahi said.

He was, however, optimistic for the future of filmmaking in Iran despite a “restrictive” regime.

“There have always been restrictions, but over the past year it was the worst,” said Panahi.

“I cannot be pessimistic though. Limitations have always existed, and this era will eventually come to an end too. It's important to have patience and resistance,” said Panahi, 50, a leading figure in Iran's New Wave cinema movement.

While in prison before his release on bail Panahi resorted to a hunger strike to protest at the conditions of his detention and to press his demand that he be freed.

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.

His arrest in March was protested by top international filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee and Oliver Stone and by several young Iranian directors.

The Cannes film festival and the French government had also condemned the jailing of Panahi, while French actress Juliette Binoche reportedly wept when she heard that he was on hunger strike. – AFP

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