Website: Iranian actress faces jail, lashing

Associated Press

SYDNEY (AP) — The Australian producers of a film critical of Iran said Tuesday that they are appalled at reports that an Iranian actress has been sentenced to a year in prison and 90 lashes for appearing in the movie.

Reports of the sentence against Marzieh Vafamehr appeared on the Iranian opposition website Kalameh.com on Monday, though no official statement from the government has been issued. The website said that Vafamehr was arrested in July and that her attorney has appealed the sentence.

"My Tehran for Sale" was shot in the Iranian capital and is critical of the Islamic republic's hard-line policies. The film tells the story of a young actress whose stage work is banned by authorities

The film was produced by the South Australia-based company Cyan Films and directed by Iranian-Australian Granaz Moussavi. It premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2009, but is banned in Iran.

On Tuesday, producers Julie Ryan and Kate Croser said they were "deeply shocked and appalled" by the reports of Vafamehr's sentence. Ryan and Croser said that they did not know the specifics of the charges against Vafamehr, but that they believe the accusations relate to scenes in which she appears without a hijab headscarf.

The producers said that Marzieh's punishment appears to be unprecedented, and that actresses have appeared without a hijab in several other Iranian films.

"We would like to express our deep shock and sadness at the sentence imposed by the Iranian government against actress Marzieh Vafamehr," Croser and Ryan said in a statement. "And 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."

Cyan Films worked with an Iranian production company on the movie and obtained all necessary government permits, the producers said.

"The accusations against Marzieh have no grounds," Moussavi, the director, said in a statement. "All the documentation has been provided to the Iranian court to show that permits were in place for the production of the film."

Lashing sentences are not uncommon in Iran, but many are not carried out.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd also criticized the sentence.

"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 spokeswoman for Rudd said in a statement. "The Australian government urges Iran to protect the rights of all Iranians and foreign citizens."

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