Iran frees prominent actress who was jailed for backing protests

Taraneh Alidoosti, who starred in Oscar-winning film, released on bail after being arrested for Instagram posts voicing support for demonstrators

Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti, center, holds flowers as she poses for a photo among her friends after being released from Evin prison in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 4, 2023. (Gisoo Faghfouri, Sharghdaily, via AP)
Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti, center, holds flowers as she poses for a photo among her friends after being released from Evin prison in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 4, 2023. (Gisoo Faghfouri, Sharghdaily, via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran released a prominent actress from an Oscar-winning film on Wednesday, nearly three weeks after she was jailed for expressing support for anti-government protests, local reports said.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency said Taraneh Alidoosti, the 38-year-old star of Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning “The Salesman,” was released on bail. Her mother, Nadere Hakimelahi, had earlier said she would be released in a post on Instagram.

After her release from the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran on Wednesday, Alidoosti posed with flowers among her friends. No further details have been released about her case.

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

One message had expressed solidarity with the first man to be executed on charges linked to the protests, which were triggered by the death of a woman in police custody and have escalated into widespread calls for the overthrow of clerical rule.

The protests mark one of the biggest challenges to the Islamic Republic since it was established after the 1979 revolution, and have prompted a heavy crackdown by security forces, who have used live ammunition, bird shot and tear gas to disperse protesters, according to rights groups.

Mohsen Shekari was executed December 9 after being charged by an Iranian court with blocking a street 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 had been accused of stabbing two members of the paramilitary Basij militia, which is leading the crackdown.

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

″His name was Mohsen Shekari,” Alidoosti wrote on an account with some 8 million followers before her arrest. “Every international organization who is watching this bloodshed and not taking action, is a disgrace to humanity.”

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

Mohsen Shekari (via Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

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

A protester holds a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a demonstration in support of Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being arrested in Tehran by the Islamic Republic’s morality police, on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on September 20, 2022. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

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

Khamenei, who has said little about the protests, spoke about Islamic dress on Wednesday in a meeting with women, saying the hijab is necessary but that those who do not “completely observe” the practice “should not be accused of being non-religious or against the revolution.”

Even before the protests, many Iranian women wore the headscarf loosely, and authorities sometimes eased off on enforcing it, particularly during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who governed from 2013 to 2021. His successor, the hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, had moved to tighten the restrictions.

Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti seen during a photoshoot for the film “Forushande” (The Salesman) at the 69th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, May 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan, File)

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

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

Other well-known movies Alidoosti has starred in include “The Beautiful City” and “About Elly.”

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