Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, centre, sits, at his Tehran home in May after he was freed from jail after more than two months in custody. ((Associated Press))

Filmmakers and the cinematic community around the globe are rallying this week behind acclaimed director Jafar Panahi and his Iranian colleague Mohammad Rasoulof, after the pair received six-year jail sentences from Iranian authorities.

The two filmmakers, who have both opposed Iran's ruling government, received the jail terms after being charged for conspiring against the ruling system.

Panahi has also been barred from making films, leaving the country or from doing interviews with any media (domestic or foreign) for the next 20 years, his lawyer said on Monday.

A wide range of directors, film groups, festivals and human rights organizations have issued statements this week defending Panahi and Rasoulof.

Martin Scorsese, joined by U.S. colleagues like Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Redford, expressed shock and dismay at the sentence.

"It’s depressing to imagine a society with so little faith in its own citizens that it feels compelled to lock up anyone with a contrary opinion. As filmmakers, we all need to stand up for Panahi and Rasoulof. We should applaud their courage and campaign aggressively for their immediate release," Scorsese said in a statement.

The Directors Guild of America noted its outrage at the situation with a message from its president, filmmaker Taylor Hackford, which called for the Iranian government to reverse its decision.

"We understand full well how crucial creative freedom is to liberty, art, culture and human rights, and we oppose any attempt to suppress the rights of artists to engage in creative expression. We stand together with the world’s film community to protest this illegal action. We urge the Iranian government to rescind its misguided decision and free Mr. Panahi and Mr. Rasoulof," Hackford said.

"The truth is that Jafar Panahi is innocent and his only crime is wishing to continue to freely exercise his profession as a filmmaker in Iran," read a joint statement from the Cannes and Locarno film festivals as well as several French and Swiss film associations.

South Korea's Pusan International Film Festival decried the "unjustified suppression to one of the greatest filmmakers in the world."

'We are very concerned'

The Berlin Film Festival — which had invited Panahi to be a member of its jury during February's forthcoming edition — also condemned the harsh sentence.


Jafar Panahi brought his film Offside, about female Iranian soccer fans who disguise themselves as boys to watch a soccer match, to the Berlin International Film Festival in 2006. ((MJ Kim/Getty Images) )

"We are very concerned and filled with indignation over the conviction of Jafar Panahi. It is shocking that a renowned director is punished so severely for his artistic work," said Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick.

"Through this sentence inflicted upon Jafar Panahi, it is manifestly all of Iranian cinema which is targeted," read an online petition currently circulating that calls for Panahi's release. As of Friday afternoon, nearly 10,600 have signed the petition.

Panahi, a celebrated director and screenwriter whose social criticism films have won acclaim at international film festivals including Cannes, Venice and Berlin, has been a vocal critic of the voting irregularities during the 2009 Iranian elections.

He was arrested briefly during protests in the summer of 2009 and again in March, when he was held for two months and released after beginning a hunger strike. Iranian authorities accused him of making a film without permission and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 election.

Panahi's credits include the acclaimed films The White Balloon, The Circle and Offside.