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Middle East

Iranian film director freed on bail after hunger strike

Iran released an internationally renowned filmmaker and opposition supporter on bail yesterday after more than two months in custody, state television reported.

Jafar Panahi, who has won awards at the Chicago, Cannes and Berlin film festivals, was freed on bail of about $200,000 (£140,000), but the report said his indictment would be sent to a revolutionary court for future action.

The decision came about a week after the 49-year-old filmmaker began a hunger strike to protest against his imprisonment. He also demanded to be allowed to see his family, meet a lawyer and be set free pending trial.

It was unclear what charges Panahi faces. Cases referred to revolutionary courts are usually security-related.

Panahi was taken into custody after Iranian security forces raided the filmmaker's Tehran home in early March. A state prosecutor has said Panahi's detention is not political and the filmmaker is suspected of committing unspecified "offences".

The filmmaker supported Iran's opposition following the disputed June presidential election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. Panahi was briefly detained last summer when he visited the gravesides of the victims of Tehran's postelection unrest and was later banned from travelling abroad.

Iran has detained more than 80 political activists and figures accused of fomenting post-election unrest since August, sentencing them to death and prison terms from six months to 15 years.

Tehran's prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, met Panahi in prison after he began his hunger strike.

Panahi had been asked to be on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival this year and his detention was frequently raised during speeches by directors and actors including Juliette Binoche. Several of his films have been banned from showing in Iran.

Mr Ahmadinejad's re-election has been challenged by a range of public figures, including filmmakers and singers, who have expressed support for the opposition and criticised the harsh government crackdown on street protesters.

The opposition contends that Mr Ahmadinejad won through fraud and that the opposition leader, Mirhossein Mousavi, was the rightful winner.