Radio Farda journalist charged, barred from leaving Iran

New York, May 30, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Iranian authorities to drop criminal charges against an Iranian-American journalist working for U.S.-backed Radio Farda, to return the journalist’s seized passport, and to allow her to travel freely.

On May 15, the Special Security Bureau of the Revolutionary Court Public Prosecutor’s office charged Parnaz Azima with disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic, her lawyer Mohammad-Hossein Aghasi told CPJ in a telephone interview conducted today through an interpreter. Azima is a dual Iranian-U.S. national who works as a correspondent for the U.S. government-funded, Persian-language Radio Farda. Authorities have not specified the material they consider to be propaganda.

Officials demanded that Azima post more than US$400,000 in bail, which the journalist paid by putting up her mother’s Tehran home as collateral. Authorities, however, continue to hold Azima’s Iranian passport, which was confiscated five months ago.

Iranian authorities confiscated Azima’s Iranian passport upon her arrival at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on a trip to see her ailing mother, effectively barring her from leaving the country. During the past several months, Revolutionary Court officials had repeatedly summoned Azima for interrogation, although she has not been detained.

“This shameless act of intimidation shows the lengths Iranian authorities will go to silence critics in the press,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Parnaz Azima’s passport should be returned at once, and she should be free to leave the country.”

If convicted, Azima faces possible prison time and monetary damages, according to Aghasi. During Azima’s latest interrogation, one court official said he would recommend that Azima pay damages in the amount of her salary at Radio Farda for the last nine years, which he estimated to be US$550,000, he said.

Based in Prague, Czech Republic, Azima has worked at Radio Farda since 1998, reporting on Iranian affairs and covering sensitive topics such as the 1998 killings of dissidents and intellectuals for which Iranian authorities were implicated. Radio Farda broadcasts out of Prague, and is jointly run by the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America.

Azima’s passport was confiscated once before, during a 2006 trip to Iran in which she was interrogated and asked to “cooperate” with Iranian officials, according to her lawyer.