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Iranian filmmaker imprisoned over his work released early

Associated Press logo Associated Press 4/30/2017 By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An award-winning Iranian filmmaker imprisoned over his work has been released after serving about five months of his yearlong sentence, though he doesn't know whether he'll make movies again in the Islamic Republic.

Keywan Karimi told The Associated Press on Sunday that he credited international pressure for his early release, as well as escaping the 223 lashes that were part of his sentence. Others, however, remain imprisoned in the Islamic Republic as part of a hard-line crackdown amid President Hassan Rouhani's outreach to the wider world through the nuclear deal.

Karimi said in an interview over Skype that he served his sentence in Tehran's Evin prison, which holds political prisoners and dual nationals detained by the security services. He described spending his first month in solitary confinement, a place he described as "very dirty, very cold."

He said he suffered pain in his stomach and leg, but ultimately recovered. He later was put into the general prison population, sharing a room with 20 other prisoners.

"You're far away from freedom, far away from something you love," Karimi said.

Karimi was convicted of "insulting sanctities" in Iran, whose government is ultimately overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The case involved footage from both a "video clip" and a film he directed called "Writing on the City," which focuses on political graffiti in Iran from its 1979 Islamic Revolution to its contested 2009 election.

Karimi is perhaps best known by international film critics for his 2013 black-and-white minimalist film, "The Adventure of the Married Couple." The short film, based on a story by Italian writer Italo Calvino, follows the grinding routine of a husband and wife working opposite shifts, she in a bottle factory and he at a mannequin store. Neither speaks, the only noise is the hum of the city they live in.

The film played in some 40 film festivals and won prizes in Spain and Colombia.

Karimi is one of several artists, poets, journalists, models and activists arrested in a crackdown on expression led by hard-liners who oppose Rouhani. His release comes ahead of Iran's May presidential election, in which Rouhani is seeking re-election.

For now, Karimi said he was grateful to be out of prison, though he felt alienated from Iran and its people.

"I want to continue filmmaking, but I don't know how and in which country," Karimi said.

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