(Prague, Czech Republic--March 2, 2008) Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima was sentenced by an Iranian court yesterday to one year in prison, after being convicted of "spreading anti-state propaganda." Azima, a citizen of both Iran and the U.S., has returned to work with Radio Farda in Prague after spending eight months as a "virtual prisoner" in the country in 2007. She now faces a stark choice -- return to Iran to serve the sentence, or forfeit the deed to her 95-year old mother's home in Tehran, which was turned over to the Iranian Judiciary in lieu of 510 million toomans ($550,000) in bail.
Tehran's 13th Revolutionary Court, headed by Judge Yazdi, found Azima guilty of "spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic" by continuing to work for the "anti-revolutionary" Radio Farda. Three other charges against Azima -- of "acting against Iran's national interests", earning illegitimate income, and owning a satellite dish/receiver -- were dismissed. According to Azima's attorney, Mohammad-Hossein Aqasi, he has 20 days to file an appeal, after which a court of appeals would take at least another month to consider the appeal.
RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin expressed dismay at the news of Azima's conviction and sentencing: "As Azima has asserted repeatedly since her current ordeal began more than one year ago, she is guilty of nothing more, or less, than doing her job as a professional journalist. Now the very real possibility exists that her mother may be put out onto the street by the Iranian government."
In the context of the recent general crackdown on all forms of criticism by the government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Gedmin said "there is a clear trend of targeting and harassing employees of Radio Farda, and I am concerned about where this is heading." In the past 12 months alone, the parents of one Radio Farda staffer were forced to pay $50,000 to regain title to their home in Tehran after he was freed from prison in 2006; he had been convicted of working as a regular correspondent of Radio Farda in Iran. The parents of a second staff member were warned by a security official that their daughter should "refrain from covering Iranian issues." A source reporting on labor unrest was sentenced to six months in prison for giving interviews to Radio Farda; last week, student activists were threatened with harsh reprisals by Intelligence Ministry officials if they provided information to Radio Farda about ongoing protests at the University of Shiraz.
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. To learn more about the Azima case, visit the "Soft Hostages in Iran"
page at RFE/RL's website.