A group of film industry luminaries, including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, on Friday called on the Iranian government to release jailed director Jafar Panahi.
In a petition signed by filmmakers and actors such as Robert De Niro and Robert Redford, the group denounced the March arrest of Panahi, whose movies include "The White Balloon" and "The Circle."
"We ... stand in solidarity with a fellow filmmaker, condemn this detention, and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Panahi immediately," the petition says.
Panahi, a maker of gritty films that examine social issues in the Islamic Republic, was a supporter of Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi in last year's disputed election that saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retain power.
On March 1, Panahi, his wife, daughter and 15 guests were held by Iranian security guards at his home, according to opposition leaders.
The petitioners say Panahi has since been held in Tehran's Evin prison, and they cite a letter from Panahi's wife expressing "deep concerns about her husband's heart condition, and about his having been moved to a smaller cell."
"Like artists everywhere, Iran's filmmakers should be celebrated, not censored, repressed and imprisoned," the petition reads.
Panahi, 49, saw his first film, 1995's "The White Ballon," win the Camera d'Or prize at the Cannes film festival, and 2000's "The Circle," which looked at the treatment of women in Iran, earned the top prize at the Venice film festival.
Other filmmakers signing the document include brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, Jonathan Demme, Ang Lee, Oliver Stone and documentary maker Michael Moore.
Like artists everywhere, Iran's filmmakers should be celebrated, not censored, repressed and imprisoned
On April 14 Iran's culture minister said that Panahi was arrested because he was making an anti-regime film.
"The culture and Islamic guidance ministry asked the judiciary and the security authorities about the arrest of Mr. Panahi and they told us that it is a security case," Mohammad Hosseini told ISNA news agency.
They informed us that this director was making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed election," he added, referring to the unrest which rocked Iran after the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad last year.
But in an interview with AFP in mid-March, Panahi's wife, Tahereh Saeedi, denied that he was making a film about post-election events, saying: "The film was being shot inside the house and had nothing to do with the regime."
Fifty Iranian filmmakers and artists signed a letter in mid-March urging the authorities to release him.
In February, the authorities banned Panahi from leaving the country to attend the Berlin Film Festival
The culture and Islamic guidance ministry asked the judiciary and the security authorities about the arrest of Mr. Panahi and they told us that it is a security case
Iranian culture minister Mohammad Hosseini