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Iran: Radio Farda Correspondent Describes Ordeal From Tehran

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

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?

"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."

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.)

U.S.-Iranian Talks In Baghdad

U.S.-Iranian Talks In Baghdad

Some perspectives on the U.S.-Iranian talks of May 28, 2007, as expressed to Radio Farda.

Mehrdad Khansari, a former Iranian diplomat and analyst who is based in London: "Today the talks with the U.S. have begun but that does not mean that the talks will have reached a result. The Iranian and U.S. governments need to [tell] their audiences that they are not abstaining from talking to each other."

Tehran-based journalist Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin (pictured above): "There is a necessity that has forced the two countries to accept a series of new issues; these new issues are the talks that are going to begin between the two sides and I am hopeful about its future. The U.S. is facing serious [problems] regarding the situation in Iraq, from the other side is Iran facing some threats in the Middle East that come from insecurity in Iraq and also insecurity in Afghanistan. The seriousness of talks depend on the will of both sides and it seems that both sides are determined to seriously deal with issues, therefore I see a positive perspective for the Iran/U.S.talks."

Ted Galen Carpenter, a U.S. foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington (pictured above), says he believes the talks can help: "The United States is in a difficult position right now in that the current U.S policy in Iraq simply has not worked at all; and I think we are beginning to cast about for some alternatives and Iran can be at least modestly hopeful in that regard as long as we recognize that Iranian influence in Iraq is going to be inevitably much, much stronger than it was before."

Richard Perle, a former Pentagon official (pictured above) who lobbied forcefully for a U.S. invasion of Iraq: "I don't believe [talking to Iran will] help because I don't believe there is any interest on the part of the mullahs in Tehran in changing the behavior of the government of Iran, which has been -- and I think will continue to be -- to encourage violence and disorder in Iraq."