Iranian director Panahi protests innocence from jail

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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 letter 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 wrote 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 those of my countrymen who come and visit me from outside, are working for me to be freed."

On Thursday in Cannes, festival organisers screened a clip of Panahi describing a police interrogation he underwent some time before his latest arrest.

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 on Wednesday.

Mitterrand and France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that day also urged Iran to release the film-maker.

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.

© 2010 AFP

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