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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, July 20, (AP): Iran’s judiciary on Tuesday ordered one of the country’s leading filmmakers to serve out a six-year prison sentence from a decade ago that had never been enforced. The order came as the government seeks to silence criticism amid growing economic turmoil and political pressure. Masoud Setayeshi, spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, announced that award-winning director, Jafar Panahi, perhaps Iran’s best-known film director, would fulfill his six-year prison term handed down in 2011 on charges of producing antigovernment propaganda, a final verdict that he said should have been implemented at the time.
Although Panahi was banned from traveling over the past years, the sentence was never enforced and he continued to make underground films, which were released abroad to great acclaim. He has won multiple festival awards, including the 2015 Berlin Golden Bear for “Taxi.” His defiant films about poverty, sexism, violence and censorship in the Islamic Republic long have angered the government. Authorities detained Panahi last week when he visited the Tehran prosecutor’s office to inquire about the cases of fellow detained dissident filmmakers, Mohamad Rasoulof and Mostafa al-Ahmad.
Rasoulof and al-Ahmad were swept up earlier this month on charges of undermining the nation’s security by voicing opposition on social media to the government’s violent crackdown on unrest in the country’s southwest. Panahi’s detention in Iran’s Evin Prison has drawn widespread criticism from rights groups, shining light on a wave of repression hitting not only the country’s celebrated cinema industry but also activists and protesters. The government has escalated its crackdown on dissent as it seeks to prevent the Iranian currency, the rial, from crashing. Talks to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers remain deadlocked and desperation over the economic crisis is deepening with no sanctions relief in sight.