New York Sun: The Iranian government has presented an Iranian-American journalist working for an American-funded radio station with a choice between her 95-year-old mother and prison. The New York Sun
BY ELI LAKE – Staff Reporter of the Sun
WASHINGTON The Iranian government has presented an Iranian-American journalist working for an American-funded radio station with a choice between her 95-year-old mother and prison.
Over the weekend, a revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced the journalist Parnaz Azima to a year in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda.” If Ms. Azima, who is both an American and Iranian citizen, does not serve her sentence, the state will seize the home of her 95-year-old mother.
“This is a filthy trick they have done,” Ms. Azima said in an interview by telephone from Prague, where she works for the Persian-language Radio Farda. “This is what they do with most people like me.” She explained that the sentence meted out in absentia on March 1 was really a gambit to get her to quit her job with Radio Farda. She said similar tactics have been used against other intellectuals and journalists in Iran.
“They will sentence people for two years of prison, but the sentence will be pending. This means that if this journalist, during four years, doesn’t repeat the charge, then the sentence goes away. If you repeat the same crime or charge, then he will be put in jail. This is the trick they play with us,” she said.
The new wave of intimidation by the Iranian authorities is interspersed with violence against individuals. Many young men accused of homosexuality are hanged in public in Iran, often from the top of cranes. Some dissident bloggers have been forced publicly to recant their words against the regime. While clerics have criticized the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, other democratic challenges, such as the movement to hold a referendum on the constitution challenging the powers of the supreme leader, have been largely suspended since 2005.
Ms. Azima, who is well known in Iran for her work as a translator, was first detained in January 2007 after she returned to Iran to visit her mother following news that the elderly woman had broken her hip. Ms. Azima said Iranian interrogators were waiting for her at the Tehran airport and confiscated her passport. She said she had to attend a month’s worth of long interrogation sessions where she was asked if she would collaborate with the Iranian government and spy on Radio Free Europe, the place of her employment since 1998.
Her case received attention in May when the regime detained three more Iranian Americans, a consultant and urban planner for the George Soros funded Open Society Institute named Kian Tajbakhsh; the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East program, Haleh Esfandiari; and a California based businessman and democracy activist named Ali Shakeri. All four were released in September after bail money was paid to the Iranian courts.
But Ms. Azima’s case presents a special challenge because she works for Radio Farda and Radio Free Europe. In a conference call with reporters, the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jeffrey Gedmin, said that other journalists working for the radio operation had had Iranian relatives taken in for questioning as a way to get to the reporters.
“They will take a relative in the service and summon a relative for questioning. All the tactics are below a certain threshold, none of it makes the front page of the New York Times, but it does have a powerful effect,” Mr. Gedmin said. He compared this to the intimidation of citizens by the East Germans in the twilight of the Cold War, describing the tactics as, “Beat down the people but don’t leave scars.”
Thus far Ms. Azima’s case has received minimal attention. On March 3, the State Department issued a statement condemning the conviction. Earlier this week the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” by the case. “This is yet another example of the Iranian authorities’ continued crackdown on its critics,” the committee’s executive director, Joel Simon, said. “We call on the appeals court to overturn Parnaz Azima’s conviction.”
When queried about the issue, the National Iranian American Council, which has lobbied Congress for negotiations with Iran and an end to American aid for democracy in Iran, had no comment.
Now Ms. Azima is hoping an appeal to a higher court will save her mother’s house. When pressed Wednesday she was loathe to be too critical of the Iranian regime as she waited for her appeal.
“I have nightmares even before the court handed out this sentence, sometimes, more than two or three nightmares a week. Now I am all the time thinking about what will happen. I have some obligations for my work. I have to work. I don’t like to stay home and do nothing,” she said.