Dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi reported to have left Iran for first time in 14 years

Dissident Iranian director Jafar Panahi is reported to have left Iran for the first time in 14 years, following the lifting of a travel ban imposed on him in 2009.

Panahi’s wife Tahereh Saeedi posted a picture on Instagram on Tuesday night showing her arriving with her husband at an undisclosed airport.

The post was captioned: “After 14 years, Jafar’s ban was cancelled and finally we are going to travel together for a few days…”

There is no information on where the picture was taken, although there have been suggestions on social media that the backdrop is a French airport – fuelling speculation that Panahi, 62, could be one of the jurors at next month’s Cannes Film Festival.

Panahi was temporarily released from the notorious Evin Prison last month after going on a hunger strike to protest “the illegal and inhumane behaviour” of Iran’s judiciary. He was out on bail.

The director was arrested last July in Tehran in the wake of the country’s conservative government crackdown. Panahi had gone to the Tehran’s prosecutor’s office to follow up on the situation of fellow dissident filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulov, who had been incarcerated a few days earlier after signing an appeal against police violence. Once Panahi arrived at the prison, he was told by guards that he had an outstanding prison sentence dating back 10 years that barred him from making films, and he was arrested again for "propaganda against the system".

During his time inside, the “**Woman Life Freedom**” protests broke out in Iran in September following the death of a 22-year Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the country’s morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly.

The director’s films (The Circle, Taxi Tehran, and his most recent, No Bears) have drawn retribution from the Islamic Republic. He has spent most of his filmmaking career in the crosshairs of Iran’s authoritarian government and has not been able to leave Iran since 2009.

Despite being legally barred from travel and filmmaking, Panahi continued to make films in secret, smuggling his work out to appear in international festivals.

His 2011 film This Is Not a Film was smuggled out of the country on a USB drive hidden inside a cake and then shown at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2013, he won the Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival for Closed Curtain, and then the festival’s top prize in 2015 for Taxi Tehran. He also won the best screenplay award at Cannes for 2018’s 3 Faces and received acclaim for 2022’s No Bears, which screened at the 2022 Venice Film Festival when the director was already behind bars. It won the Special Jury Prize. An empty seat was left for Panahi at the press conference out of protest.