ROME (Reuters) - Acclaimed movie maker Jafar Panahi has gone on trial in Iran, accused of making a film without permission and inciting opposition protests, according to a statement released in Italy.
Panahi was prevented from attending the Venice film festival in September following his arrest in March and 88 days in detention, during which he went on hunger strike.
U.S. director Steven Spielberg and French actress Juliette Binoche were among the movie luminaries who spoke up for him.
Panahi, 50, irked Iranian authorities by supporting an opposition candidate in last year’s presidential election, where hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term — a result that sparked massive street protests.
In his statement to the court, released to Reuters by the organizers of “Giornate degli Autori — Venice Days,” a side event of the main Venice festival, Panahi said he was a victim of injustice and called one of the charges against him “a joke.”
Panahi said he had started making his latest film when his house was raided and his film collection deemed “obscene” and seized.
“I do not comprehend the charge of obscenity directed at the classics of film history, nor do I understand the crime I am accused of,” Panahi said, according to an English version of his statement to the court.
“If these charges are true, you are putting not only us on trial but the socially conscious, humanistic and artistic Iranian cinema as well,” he said.
It was not clear if anyone else was on trial with Panahi. Iranian media have not reported the trial or the charges.
Many films are banned in Iran if they do not comply with the government’s strict moral code, although most — even the latest Hollywood releases — are widely available on bootleg DVDs.
Iranian authorities regularly accuse Western governments and media of conducting propaganda against the Islamic Republic.
Panahi won the Camera d’Or prize in Cannes for his 1995 film “The White Balloon” and five years later took the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice festival with “The Circle,” which deals with the struggles of women living under the restrictions imposed by the Islamic state.
Panahi also rejected the charge of incitement to protest, saying his films were social but not political.
“My case is a perfect example of being punished before committing a crime. You are putting me on trial for making a film that, at the time of our arrest, was only 30 percent shot,” he said.
Panahi said there was no law requiring government permission to make a film, “only some internal memos that change each time the deputy minister is changed.”
Famed for his work with non-professional actors and improvised style, Panahi said another charge — of not giving his actors a script — “sounds more like a joke that has no place in the judiciary system.”
Panahi said he was used to seeing films banned, but that his arrest showed the government was going further than it had in the past to intimidate independent film makers.
“It is unprecedented in Iranian cinema to arrest and imprison a filmmaker for making a film, and harass his family while he is in prison,” he said.
“This is a new development in the history of Iranian cinema that will be remembered for a long time.”
Editing by Kevin Liffey