Government Sentences Activist Actress To Prison



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An Iranian actress known for her political activism in support of the
country’s reformists has been sentenced to
18 months in prison after
facing security charges, newspapers reported Tuesday, in another sign of
the underlying tensions between Iran’s hard-line judiciary and calls
for greater openness by new President Hassan Rouhani.

The reports
came a day after authorities ordered the closure of the pro-reform
Bahar daily for published a commentary considered offensive to Islam by
raising questions about the successors of the Prophet Muhammad.

But
Iranian officials have shown signs of easing some clampdowns since the
moderate-leaning Rouhani took office in August — such as freeing dozens
of prisoners held on political charges and reopening a prominent
artistic centre known as the House of Cinema.

The case over the
24-year-old actress, Pegah Ahangarani, also points to the internal — and
sometimes conflicting — centres of power in Iran.

The judiciary
is controlled by the country’s ruling clerics, headed by Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has given the green light so far to some of
Rouhani’s main international initiatives, such as outreach to Washington
despite opposition from some hard-line groups. But Khamenei and his
inner circle appear cautious on fast-paced domestic reforms that could
further anger Rouhani’s opponents.

Ahangarani, who has appeared
in about 20 films, has been detained twice since the protests in 2009
over the disputed re-election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but
she was released without charges. Recently, she has been banned from
travelling abroad.

The Chicago Film Festival is currently showing
Ahangarani’s latest film, “Darband,” about a university female student
who becomes the roommate with a young woman wrestling with financial
problems.

Tuesday’s report by the pro-reform Shargh daily quoted
Ahangarani’s mother, Manijeh Hekmat, as saying the actress has been
sentenced to 18 months. She said it is unclear who filed the complaint
against Ahangarani, but noted the charges including “action against
national security and links to foreign media.” Ahangarani can appeal the
ruling.

In reaction to the verdict, many movie-lovers quickly joined a cyber-campaign urging authorities to reconsider.

Shortly
after Rouhani’s election victory, Ahangarani asked him at a public
meeting to appoint a culture minister who would be able to deliver
promises on “freedom of thought and expression.” She also said
“incompetent” officials were the country’s “biggest enemy.”

In
2011, an Iranian court sentenced filmmaker Jafar Panahi to a six-year
house arrest and a 20-year ban on filmmaking after he was convicted of
“making propaganda” against Iran’s ruling system. Panahi, however, has
been seen at recent cultural events in Tehran.

Rouhani’s
administration in September reopened the House of Cinema, an independent
film group that was ordered closed in early 2012.

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