(Washington, DC--May 22, 2007) Iranian authorities are refusing to return the passport of Radio Farda Correspondent Parnaz Azima and allow her to leave Iran, even though Azima and her family have posted a bail bond worth approximately US$440,000. Azima's lawyer, Mohammad-Hossein Aqasi told Radio Farda in an exclusive interview yesterday that the bond amount set by the court was "unprecedented" in Iranian jurisprudence. Aqasi also asserted that the entire case against Azima has no basis in Iranian law, as the prosecutor's office cannot cite a single clause that would support the charges prosecutors plan to bring against Azima.
RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin drew attention to what appear to be stalling tactics on the part of the Iranian Judiciary, saying "There is absolutely no reason for Iranian authorities to be treating Ms. Azima in this way. She was traveling to Iran on private business when her passport was seized. I find it ludicrous that Iranian authorities feel the need to criminalize a daughter's desire to visit her severely ill mother." Gedmin also expressed his appreciation for the efforts of U.S. diplomats, and their Swiss colleagues in Tehran, to resolve all issues that are keeping Azima from leaving Iran.
On May 15, during an appearance at the "Special Security Bureau of the Revolutionary Court's Public Prosecutor's office" Azima and Aqasi were told that she would be charged with working for Radio Farda, an organization that prosecutors claim is "an institution that spreads propaganda against the Islamic Republic." Based on these charges, bail was set at 400 million tooman -- an amount prosecutors based on an estimate of the salary Azima earned during her nine years of employment with RFE/RL; the prosecutor's office claims this money was earned in an "illegitimate" way. Azima was given until May 20 to secure the bail.
When, on May 20, her lawyer reported back to the "Special Security Bureau of the Revolutionary Court's Public Prosecutor's office" with bail, in the form of the deed to her mother's home in Tehran, prosecutors claimed that a "technicality" prevented them from accepting the proffered bail. When asked, prosecutors said the passport would not be returned immediately upon receipt of the bail, due to "sensitivities" linked to interest on the part of Iran's Information Ministry in the case. Yesterday, May 21, Aqasi was again at the "Special Security Bureau," where the bail was accepted -- but the passport was not returned.
Azima's passport was confiscated upon her arrival at Tehran's airport in February 2007 to visit her ailing mother. She holds U.S. as well as Iranian citizenship.
Azima is a broadcaster with Radio Farda, the joint RFE/RL-Voice of America 24-hour, seven-day-a-week Persian-language broadcast service to Iran. She joined RFE/RL in 1998 and is based at RFE/RL's broadcast headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic. Azima endured a similar situation in Iran during the spring of 2006, when her Iranian passport was seized and held for several weeks before being returned to her.