The Guardian: One of four Iranian-born Americans accused in Iran of being part of a criminal conspiracy has said that the charges against her are baseless and brought because she is a journalist reporting politically sensitive issues. The Guardian
Journalist and academics accused of conspiracy US accused of trying to overthrow government
Robert Tait in Tehran
One of four Iranian-born Americans accused in Iran of being part of a criminal conspiracy has said that the charges against her are baseless and brought because she is a journalist reporting politically sensitive issues.
Parnaz Azima, 58, is accused of being a counter-revolutionary committed to the downfall of the Islamic government. Her passport was seized in January and she has since been caught in a saga of intrigue and suspicion which has sent relations between Tehran and Washington plunging to a new low, amid allegations that the Bush administration is fomenting a “velvet revolution” in Iran.
Mrs Azima is a journalist with the Prague-based Radio Farda – a US-funded Farsi-language station. She is accused of conspiring with two academics – Haleh Esfandiari, of the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Centre and Kian Tajbakhsh, linked to the Soros Open Society Institute in New York, who are held in Evin prison in Tehran on spying charges after being arrested last month. Ali Shakeri, a scholar at the University of California, is also detained, suspected of spying.
Iran has dismissed calls by President Bush for their immediate release but has promised to decide to indict them for trial or let them go. The detentions have led to fear among Iranians with links to the west, especially America.
Iran’s intelligence ministry announced two weeks ago that Iranian academics attending conferences with westerners would be suspected of spying. Officials justify this by accusing the US of destabilising Iran by stealth, through support for pro-democracy and “civil society” organisations. They point to £38m pledged by the US state department to Iranian opposition projects. The money mostly funds Farsi-language satellite TV and radio broadcasts.
After her passport was confiscated on arrival at Mehrabad airport in Tehran on January 25, Mrs Azima was told last month that she was charged with making propaganda against the regime and earning illicit money.
“Their reasoning is that I have been working for a counter-revolutionary organisation that promotes subversion against the Iranian government, so my salary has been illicit from the point of view of an Iranian,” she said. “But this is an internationally recognised radio station. According to international law, the charges are baseless.”
Mrs Azima said that she was charged after declining the intelligence ministry’s request to “cooperate” in exchange for the return of her passport. “Their agents referred to certain reports I had made, such as over the women’s movement, human rights, political prisoners, censorship, the closure of newspapers, and events in Kurdistan,” she said.
“They said: ‘You don’t have to report on these things. It’s propaganda against the regime’,” she said.
The hostility towards Radio Farda is further driven by its status as an offshoot of Radio Free Europe – whose pro-western broadcasts into eastern Europe were credited with undermining communism during the cold war. Tehran fears that the US wants an Iranian version of the protest movements which toppled pro-Soviet regimes.
Mrs Azima knew that her arrival in Iran could draw official scrutiny after a visit last year led to lengthy interrogations followed by charges of subversion, which were later dropped.
She risked a second visit to look after her 94-year-old mother.