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Radio Farda Correspondent Describes Ordeal From Tehran

June 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima has been prevented from leaving Iran for the past five months. Azima -- an Iranian-American -- had traveled to Tehran in January to visit her sick mother when authorities confiscated her Iranian passport and charged her with working for Radio Farda and spreading propaganda against the state. Since then Azima has been unable to leave Iran and return to her work in Prague. Azima talks about her situation in a phone interview with RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari.

Parnaz Azima working in Prague
(file photo - RFE/RL)

RFE/RL: You have been trapped in Iran for the past five months, authorities have confiscated your passport, and you cannot return to your work and life here. How do you feel about this?

Parnaz Azima: On the surface it seems that everything is well, I'm in my mother's house and I can go anywhere I want and no one stops me. That is on the surface; but the truth is that I am facing a state of uncertainty and waiting. I can describe it as a prisoner who is in a larger prison and the length of the prison term has not been determined. [The prisoner] is expecting an answer any minute that he will remain in jail or be released. But I have to say that I'm grateful when I compare my [situation] with that of Haleh Esfandiari, Kian Tajbakhsh, Ali Shakeri [Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh are Iranian-American scholars recently jailed in Iran; Shakeri is an Iranian-American peace activist who has also been detained], and many other prisoners who do not enjoy the relative freedom that I have. I do my best to use this opportunity -- when I left Iran some 25 years ago I left some unfinished work -- I have found some of my manuscripts but many have been lost and I am working on them.

RFE/RL: There's been lots of support for you in the United States and internationally and several human rights groups have called on Iran to let you go and also release Esfandiari, Tajbakhsh, and Shakeri, the Iranian-Americans who have been jailed in Iran. Have you received support also from inside Iran?

Azima: There has not been such organized support [inside Iran], though I have received emotional support from my family, my friends, and it's very positive. There are people that I didn't even know and they just had heard my name and seen my work; they came to my house with flowers. Such gestures lift up my morale but I also have to say that the extent of such support is very limited because everybody knows that it is very likely that my phone is being tapped, my calls are being monitored and people are to a large extent worried about their everyday lives. They are common people with no support and protection therefore I have many close friends who have not contacted me and I understand them and I know that they have the right to think about their own [situations].

RFE/RL: You have been charged with spreading propaganda against the state by working for Radio Farda. What is your reaction to these charges?

Azima: I gave an example to [the authorities] who interrogated me: news organizations such as the BBC, CNN, and others that are based in foreign countries, the governments of [these countries] can also accuse them of propaganda against them because they bring the voice of opposition forces to their [audience] -- and even the voice of those who are against the policies of the U.S. government -- they cover their views. In my eyes this is what journalism is all about: informing freely. Unfortunately in [Iran] journalism is such that journalists should always praise officials or they face censorship and pressure. But if we increase our awareness about journalism and the principle of the free flow of information then we will realize that [such practice] is not propaganda against the state, in my view it's to the benefit of a state. Of course democratic states, because dictatorships or totalitarian regimes are afraid of people, they're afraid of telling the truth, they're concerned about informing people. But officials from Iran's Islamic republic, who always say that [Iran] is one of the best democracies in the world, should not have any fear for [those] telling the truth. If they really care about people's thoughts and opinions, they should consider people's ideas and value them in order to improve the Islamic republic. The other issue is that journalism is a profession that doesn't take sides and is impartial; a journalist should say everything objectively therefore I think -- as Mohammad Hossein Aghasi [Azima's lawyer] has said -- these charges are baseless.

RFE/RL: Do we know how authorities will proceed regarding your case? Have they set a date for another court hearing?

Azima: The judge in charge of my case decided that I will not be detained but I was allowed to remain free on a very heavy and unprecedented bail of about 500 million tooman [approximately $550,000]. They will now do their investigation -- the Intelligence Ministry is doing the investigation. It will give the results to the judge in charge of the case and the judiciary, then they will decide about having a court session. My case is waiting now for the response from the Intelligence Ministry so I will have to see what their decision will be regarding my case. It is possible that they will decide to return my passport and since I'm an optimistic person I think it is very likely, but it could be quite the opposite -- so I'm waiting and I've been in this state for five months now.

(See also "Iran: Simin Behbehani, A Poet For The Ages, Captures Nation's Suffering And Joys," by Parnaz Azima.)

Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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