Iranian court sentences correspondent for U.S.-backed radio station

New York, March 3, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the one-year jail sentence handed down in absentia to an Iranian-American journalist working for U.S.-backed Radio Farda by a Revolutionary Court on Saturday.

Tehran’s 13th Revolutionary Court convicted Parnaz Azima of disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic by working for Radio Farda, according to a statement issued by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Radio Farda, which broadcasts from Prague, Czech Republic, is jointly run by the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America.

Her lawyer, Mohammad-Hossein Aghasi, has 20 days to appeal the conviction, according to a statement from RFE/RL.

“This is yet another example of the Iranian authorities’ continued crackdown on its critics,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the appeals court to overturn Parnaz Azima’s conviction.”

In late January 2007, authorities confiscated Azima’s passport upon her arrival at Tehran’s airport on a trip to see her ailing mother. By May, the Special Security Bureau of the Revolutionary Court’s public prosecutor’s office had charged her with several offences, including spreading propaganda, according to RFE/RL. Officials ordered Azima to post US$550,000 in bail, which the journalist paid by putting up her mother’s Tehran home as collateral.

Authorities unexpectedly returned Azima’s passport in early September 2007, allowing her to leave Iran later that month, according to RFE/RL. Since then she has been in Prague and did not attend her trial. If she loses her appeal, she must choose between losing her elderly mother’s home and returning to serve her sentence. CPJ was unable to reach Azima for comment.

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

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin said in the statement that “there is a clear trend of targeting and harassing employees of Radio Farda, and I am concerned about where this is heading.”

Authorities have harassed several other employees or sources reporting for Radio Farda over the last year. One source was given a six-month jail sentence for speaking with the station.