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Iran: Lawyer Rejects Charges Against RFE/RL Journalist

Mohammad Hossein Aqasi has rejected the charges against Azima as baseless (file) (RFE/RL) August 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) – The lawyer for RFE/RL journalist Parnaz Azima, who has been prevented from leaving Iran since January, says she is now facing a charge of acting against national security.

Mohammad Hossein Aqasi says no date has been set for a trial Azima already faces charges of spreading propaganda against the Iranian state and has had to post bail in Tehran equivalent to some $550,000. She is one of four Iranian-Americans who are either detained or being kept from leaving Iran. Aqasi spoke to Radio Farda's Mosaddegh Katouzian.

RFE/RL: Previously Azima was accused of propaganda against the regime, what is her official charge right now?

Mohammad Hossein Aqasi: In the early stages, the prosecutor had indicated her charge was engaging in propaganda against the Islamic Republic through her activities as a Radio Farda journalist. However, the court has now charged Ms. Azima for activities against national security through working for Radio Farda and publishing articles against the regime. There is also another charge which was in the earlier file but was suspended. This charge relates to having equipment for receiving satellite signals. So, the charge is changed, although they are still referring to the Article 500 of the Islamic punitive law, which is about propaganda against the system.

RFE/RL: Are there examples of such activities of working against national security in the file?

Aqasi: There are printouts of Ms. Azima’s programs that were broadcast after 2005. These reports were simply aired by Ms. Azima and were not commented upon by her. Therefore, her activities do not amount to propaganda against the regime.

RFE/RL: What is the equipment that the prosecutor refers to?

Aqasi: When the law enforcement officers went to Ms. Azima’s home for the first time in 2005, they confiscated a receiver and satellite dish.

RFE/RL: Is Ms. Azima accused of having brought this equipment from abroad?

Aqasi: No. This equipment belongs to her mother. Satellite dishes and receivers are widely distributed and used in Iran and many people own one. However, this is against the law and is normally punished with a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 toomans [$120 to 360].

RFE/RL: Do you think that Azima will receive her passport now?

Aqasi: The order for banning her from leaving the country was issued on Esfand 25 [March 15]. Such orders are valid only for a maximum of six months, although they can be extended. Therefore, the ban must be removed by 25 of Shahrivar [September 17]. However, it seems like they don’t want to return her passport to her. Because the case is in its early stages, and because of the nature of the case, I can not reveal all the information I have, but I can tell you that there is a decision that Ms. Azima stays in Iran until her trial.

RFE/RL: Is there any indication in the file about when Azima may receive her passport again?

Aqasi: There is no time frame indicated in the file. Those officials who decide about this case, other than the judiciary, emphasize that Ms. Azima must remain in Iran for now and indicate issues related to foreign relationships are the reason, which refers to the relationship between Iran and the United States.

RFE/RL: Which institution do these authorities which you refer to as nonjudiciary officials represent?

Aqasi: Please let us not get into the details, but in general you know what type of official may have a say about national security cases. They are generally the authority that decides about the case and the court usually follows their direction.

RFE/RL: If these charges are proven in court, what kind of punishment is prescribed by law?

Aqasi: According to the Article 500 of the punitive law, the punishment for such charges are between three months to a year. For the satellite dishes there is normally a 100,000-tooman fine. So, compared to these numbers, the bail set on Ms. Azima is extremely high, an indication that they want to keep her in Iran for now.

RFE/RL: What is the next step and how will the case proceed?

Aqasi: We will certainly push for a speedy pursuit of this case. My impression is that the case of these four people is a political case related to the Iran-U.S. relationship. There are no real charges and if the relationship between Iran and the United States were different, they would not be kept in Iran in the first place.

Radio Farda's Parnaz Azima

Radio Farda's Parnaz Azima