Iran releases Oscar winner arrested over protests


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iran released a prominent actress from an Oscar-winning film on Wednesday, nearly three weeks after she was jailed for criticizing a crackdown on anti-government protests, local reports said.

Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA said Taraneh Alidoosti, the 38-year-old star of Asghar Farhadi’s 2016 Oscar-winning film The Salesman, has been released on bail. Her mother, Nadere Hakimelahi, previously announced in a post on Instagram that she would be released.

Following her release from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison on Wednesday, Alidoosti posed with bouquets surrounded by friends. Further details about her case were not released.

Alidoosti was among several Iranian celebrities who expressed support for the nationwide protests and criticized the authorities’ crackdown on dissent. She had posted at least three messages to Instagram in support of the protests before her account was deactivated.

A message had expressed its solidarity with the first man to be executed over allegations related to the protests sparked by the death of a woman in police custody, which escalated into widespread calls to overthrow Iran’s ruling clergy.

The protests mark one of the biggest challenges facing the Islamic Republic since its establishment after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. According to human rights groups, security forces have used live ammunition, bird shot, tear gas and batons to disperse protesters.

Mohsen Shekari was executed on December 9 after being charged by an Iranian court with blocking a road in Tehran and attacking a member of the country’s security forces with a machete. A week later, Iran executed a second prisoner, Majidreza Rahnavard, by public hanging. He was accused of stabbing two members of the paramilitary Basij militia leading the crackdown.

Activists say at least a dozen people have been sentenced to death in closed-door hearings on charges related to the protests.

“His name was Mohsen Shekari,” Alidoosti wrote before her arrest on an account with around 8 million followers. “Any international organization that watches this bloodshed and fails to act is a disgrace to humanity.”

The Iranian reports of Alidoosti’s release did not say if she has been charged with anything or if she will stand trial. It was also unclear if she would face any travel restrictions as part of her release.

At least 516 protesters were killed and over 19,000 people arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been closely monitoring the unrest. The Iranian authorities have not provided an official number of those killed or detained.

Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi, two other famous Iranian actresses, were arrested in November for expressing their solidarity with protesters on social media. Voria Ghafouri, an Iranian soccer star, was also arrested this month for “insulting the national soccer team and propaganda against the government”. All three were released.

The protests began in mid-September when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by Iran’s vice squad for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Women have played a leading role in the protests, with many publicly shedding the mandatory Islamic headscarf known as the hijab.

The protesters say they are fed up with decades of political and social repression. One of the main slogans was “Death to the Dictator,” referring to 83-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has held the country’s highest office for more than three decades.

Iranian officials blame the US and other foreign powers for the protests. State media have highlighted attacks on security forces, while authorities have severely curtailed coverage of the demonstrations, including the regular disruption of internet access.

Khamenei, who has said little about the protests, spoke about Islamic dress at a meeting with women on Wednesday, saying the hijab is necessary but those who don’t “fully observe” the practice shouldn’t be accused of not being religious or against the revolution.”

Even before the protests, many Iranian women wore the headscarf loosely, and authorities sometimes slacked off enforcing it, particularly during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, a relatively moderate, who ruled from 2013 to 2021. His successor, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, tried to tighten the restrictions.

Alidoosti had already criticized the Iranian government and its police before this year’s protests.

In June 2020, she was given a five-month suspended sentence after she criticized police on Twitter in 2018 for assaulting a woman who had taken off her headscarf.

In “The Salesman” she played a woman whose relationship with her husband falls apart after being sexually assaulted in their apartment. The story unfolds against the backdrop of a local production of Arthur Miller’s classic play Death of a Salesman, in which the woman and her husband play the main characters.

Other well-known films Alidoosti has acted in are The Beautiful City and About Elly.

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