Australia condemns Iranian actress lashing sentence

AFP, Tuesday 11 Oct 2011

Canberra urged Iran to respect the human rights of its citizens Tuesday after the sentencing of an actress to 90 lashes for appearing in an Australian film with her head uncovered and shaven

Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd expressed "deep concern" at reports that Marzieh Vafamehr had been sentenced to a year in prison and the lashes for her role in the film "My Tehran for Sale".

"The Australian government condemns the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is deeply concerned by reports that Ms Marzieh Vafamehr has been sentenced to one year in jail and 90 lashes for her role in an Australian-produced film," a spokesman for Rudd told AFP. "The Australian government urges Iran to protect the rights of all Iranians and foreign citizens."

A report of Vafamehr's sentence appeared on the Iranian opposition website on Sunday, also saying that her lawyer was lodging an appeal. Iran's Fars news agency said the film had not been approved for distrubution in the country and was being distributed there illegally.

Shot entirely in Tehran and directed by Iranian-Australian Granaz Moussavi, the 2008 film tells the story of a young actress in Iran's capital whose work is banned by the authorities.

Adelaide-based production company Cyan Films said the low-budget, independent movie was never intended for release in Iran and its dissemination on Tehran's black market was "totally outside the control" of the company.

Cyan producers Kate Croser and Julie Ryan said they were stunned and appalled by Vafamehr's sentence, which her lawyers are appealing, and denied the court's allegations that filming was carried out without a proper permit.

"We would like to express our deep shock and sadness at the sentence," Croser and Ryan said in a statement. "We continue to offer our support to Marzieh and her family by respecting their wishes to let the case and the appeal follow the proper legal channels."

They stressed that Vafamehr's role was limited to acting "and she was not in any other way involved in the behind-the-scenes filmmaking", and also questioned the harshness of the sentence in the context of other films.

"The producers are aware of several other Iranian films where actresses appear with a shaved head and no hijab, hence the news of Marzieh's sentencing appears to be unprecedented in this regard," Cyan said.

"My Tehran For Sale" premiered at the 2009 Adelaide Film Festival and has been screened at other events including the Rotterdam Film Festival and the Global Lens program at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

It was partially funded by the South Australian Film Corporation, and SAFC chief Richard Harris said the body would "do everything within its power to assist in securing Marzieh's freedom".

"We are deeply disturbed by Marzieh Vafamehr's sentence for appearing in Granaz Moussavi's groundbreaking film, which is itself about the risks that artists are prepared to take for creative expression," he said.

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