BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities on Thursday rescinded their decision to ban the prize-winning animated film "Persepolis" following an outcry and accusations that the censorship was aimed at pleasing Iran and local Shiite clerics. "We have given the green light for 'Persepolis,'" one official from the censorship bureau said on condition of anonymity. She did not elaborate.
On Wednesday, General Wafiq Jizzini, head of the Interior Ministry's General Security department - which administers Lebanon's censorship regime - told AFP he had decided to ban the film after Shiite officials expressed concern that its content was offensive to Muslims and to Iran.
"I can go back on my decision," he said then. "I respect freedom of expression but given the current political crisis in Lebanon, this is not the time to add fuel to the fire."
Jizzini could not be reached on Thursday to determine why he had changed his mind.
His initial decision was widely condemned, with some Lebanese saying it smacked of hypocrisy and showed that some within the government were kowtowing to Iran.
Culture Minister Tarek Mitri said he saw no reason why the film should be banned and that he had urged the ministry to rescind its decision.
Bassam Eid, production manager at Circuit Empire, the company that was to distribute the film, blasted the ban as ridiculous, especially since pirated copies were widely available - including in Beirut's mostly Shiite southern suburbs.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a leading member of the coalition of parties currently dominating the Lebanese Cabinet, said he was stunned by "this cultural faux-pas that allows a security service to evaluate artistic and cultural works."
General Security has been entrusted to preside over the country's censorship since the end of the Civil War in 1990.
The "Persepolis" ruling is the second to be overturned recently. Late last year the play "How Nancy Wished that Every Day was an April Fool's Joke" was also banned. It was said the censor feared the play - which narrates the course of the 15-year-long Civil War from the perspective of four of its fighters - would further irritate sectarian tensions in the country.
That ruling was reversed after Mitri's intervention, causing many to interpret the ban to have been a partisan matter.
"Persepolis" shows its young heroine's brushes with the authorities in the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Directed by Iranian-French emigre Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, and based on Satrapi's comic strips, the film "Persepolis" was screened in Iran last month, though the state banned it in February 2007. The film is not expected to receive a general release in the Islamic Republic.
Satrapi's film was joint winner of the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and was later nominated for an Oscar for best animated film. Despite its success, "Persepolis" has been condemned by the Iranian government as Islamophobic and anti-Iranian.
It shows repression under the shah but also portrays the social crackdown, arrests and executions that followed the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
The heroine's rebellious nature and conflicts with the authorities force her to leave Iran temporarily for Austria and then for France - this time never to return. - The Daily Star, with AFP