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Iranian filmmaker released from prison

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Iranian filmmaker released
  • Award-winning filmmaker released from Iranian prison Tuesday
  • French star Juliette Binoche appealed for Jafar Panahi's release at Cannes
  • Panahi arrested March 1 for making film on Iran's disputed 2009 elections

(CNN) -- Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has been imprisoned since March 1, was released from prison Tuesday.

"He sounded really good. He just said, 'Thanks so much for all the support'...and said he is thankful to everybody for the support. But he sounded really good," said a close friend living in New York, who had just spoken with Panahi by phone.

But the director, who has been on a hunger strike since May 16, was going straight to a hospital for a checkup, the friend said.

Photos of Panahi taken after his release show him to be noticeably thinner than when he was imprisoned three months ago.

The friend in New York provided the photos to CNN and said they came from the director's family. The friend asked not to be named in order to protect family members still living in Iran.

Video: Iranian filmmaker makes Cannes headlines

Panahi was expected to be released on $200,000 bail, the Iranian Labour News Agency said.

The release is a result of a meeting between Panahi and Tehran's prosecutor, said Panahi's wife, Tahereh Saeedi, in the ILNA report.

Panahi, 49, was detained in connection with a film he was creating about Iran's turbulent June 12 presidential election, which led to mass protests, violence and the arrests of thousands of people, including journalists, politicians, filmmakers and students.

His case has drawn attention worldwide, most recently at this year's Cannes Film Festival in France.

There, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami and the star of his latest film, French starlet Juliette Binoche, appealed for the release of Panahi, whose seat as a member of the Cannes jury was empty.

Javad Shamaghdar, film deputy at Iran's Ministry of Culture and Guidance, said the outcry at Cannes had no bearing on Panahi's fate.

"It is disappointing that propaganda over last two days about the judicial case of Mr. Panahi was a pre-planned scenario," Shamaghdar said in a letter to Cannes festival President Gilles Jacob, the Iranian Student News Agency reported.

"Legal procedures of his case have been almost completed and there is much hope that he will be released soon."

Panahi is best known for his films "White Balloon" -- which won the award for best first feature film at the 1995 Cannes festival -- and "The Circle," which nabbed the top prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2000. His films give insight into Iranian life, capturing the day-to-day struggles under the restrictive regime.

His film "Offside" tells the story of girls who defy law by disguising themselves as boys to sneak into the 2006 World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain. While it was filmed in Iran, the film was never screened in the country. Still, it won the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival and was viewed by critics at festivals in New York and Toronto.

Reports of Panahi's expected release came a day after Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Nurizad, who was arrested in December, was released from Tehran's Evin prison, the Mehr news agency reported. Nurizad, who also works as a journalist, was arrested after objecting to the Islamic government's crackdown on the opposition movement that gained momentum after the presidential election.

Hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the overwhelming winner of the election, which was decried as fraudulent by his opponents.

CNN's Ivan Watson contributed to this report.