Iranian filmmaker and journalist Mostafa Azizi sentenced to eight years in Evin prison
June 17, Baghdad: CJFE strongly condemns the sentencing of Iranian filmmaker and Canadian permanent resident Mostafa Azizi to eight years in prison. On June 8, 2015, Azizi was convicted of charges that include collusion against Iran’s national security and insulting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. The charges may have stemmed from posts that Azizi made on social media, but it is not clear which particular posts or other actions provoked his arrest. These types of vaguely worded charges of violating national security are frequently used to silence free speech in Iran and constitute a flagrant violation of Azizi’s right to freedom of expression.
Azizi was taken into custody in January, after returning to Iran to care for his ailing father and held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, known for its brutal conditions, during the trial. Born and based in Iran for the majority of his life, Azizi immigrated to Canada in 2008 and currently has permanent resident status. His children are Canadian citizens and Azizi was in the process of gaining citizenship prior to his arrest.
Azizi had only returned to Iran after seeing statements from the administration of President Hassan Rouhani that encouraged Iranians living in exile to return to their home country to live and work; officials had asserted that “there would be no problems for 97 percent [of Iranian exiles who returned from living abroad].” It now appears that these promises of clemency and respect for freedom of expression were unfounded.
Azizi’s detention and subsequent conviction illustrates the pervasive practice in Iran of leveling criminal charges against individuals and groups for the peaceful expression of opinions that counter the government’s positions, or are viewed as a threat to public order. This case also highlights the inherent difficulties of providing humanitarian and consular assistance in countries where Canada has no formal diplomatic relations. Despite becoming a prominent cultural figure in Toronto’s Iranian community since his arrival, the Canadian government is almost completely powerless to intervene on Azizi’s behalf, in particular because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship.
Canada suspended its diplomatic relations with Iran on September 7, 2012, after designating the country as a state supporter of terrorism. The department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada specifically warns Iranian-Canadians against travelling to the country as they may be at a higher risk of harassment and investigation from Iranian authorities.
Iran is ranked by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as the seventh most censored country in the World and among the top ten worst jailers of journalists worldwide, according to CPJ’s annual prison census. This means that Azizi is just one of an estimated hundreds of prisoners of conscience in Iran, strongly contradicting the regime’s consistent claim that it does not take political prisoners.
Most recently, when asked about the arrest of Jason Rezaian, an American-Iranian reporter for The Washington Post currently on trial for charges that include espionage, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “We do not jail people for their opinions.” The foreign minister’s remarks were immediately rebutted by Iranian citizens, prominent human rights activists, journalists and other critics alike.
Earlier this year Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on Iran, said that human rights conditions are worsening in Iran under President Hassan Rouhani. The UN expert specifically argued that Iranian authorities “continue to harass, arrest, prosecute and imprison many members of society who express criticism of the government or publicly deviate from officially sanctioned narratives.”
In light of these findings and the conviction of Mostafa Azizi, the prospects of an acquittal in Rezaian’s trial appear rather grim. CJFE calls on Iranian authorities to cease in the sustained persecution of human rights defenders and free speech advocates in Iran and to release all prisoners of conscience in the country, as a step towards honouring its repeated promises to respect the right to freedom of expression.
The Oslo Times