ARTICLE 19 continues to call for the immediate release of Iranian-Canadian television producer and author Mostafa Azizi.
The former Chair of the International Animated Film Association’s Iran Chapter, Mostafa Azizi, has been sentenced to 8 years in prison, for social media activity.
The heavy charges given Mostafa Azizi for peacefully expressing his views on social media are unacceptable and in violation of Iran’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Iran must release Azizi immediately.
On 8 June 2015 Azizi was the latest victim of current heavy jail sentences against dissident voices on social media in Iran. He was charged with 5 years for “gathering and colluding against national security”, 2 years for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and 1 year for “acting against national security (in cyberspace)”. His son, Arash Azizi told ARTICLE 19 that the charges were a shock for the family who were not expecting such heavy allegations to come out of his hearing.
Azizi has appealed the decision and is awaiting the decision of the courts.
ARTICLE 19 is concerned that Azizi’s continued detention is detrimental to his deteriorating health. “My dad is doing well mentally. That’s the good news. But his physical heath is still worrying. For example he requires particular asthma medication from Canada that’s not available in Iran. He’s running out and we are worried as to the consequences when it does. We hope to get him on bail to address his health problems,” Arash Azizi informed ARTICLE 19.
ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that Azizi’s trial did not take place in accordance with international human rights standards. With this lack of transparency it is unclear what occurred in the hearing and what evidence was presented. “It’s concerning that it was a closed trial and my father was not present”, Arash Azizi told ARTICLE 19.
The past year has seen a sharp increase in arrests and heavy for internet-related offenses, as well as continuing arrests of journalists and bloggers and the forced closure of newspapers, with at least 30 journalists in prison at the start of 2015.
Last month artist Atena Farghadani was sentenced to 12 years for paintings and activism on social media, and children’s rights activist Atena Daemi was also given a sentenced of 14 years for activism on Facebook. In April 2015 Iran’s Revolutionary Court also sentenced eight Facebook users to a combined total of 127 years in prison (later reduced to 114 years). They were all sentenced under similarly vague charges including “acting against national security,” “spreading propaganda against the state,” and “insulting Islam and state officials.” Earlier in November 2014, Iran’s Supreme Court upheld a death sentence for Soheil Arabi “insulting the Prophet”- also for posts on Facebook.
While the Iranian Constitution maintains the right to freedom of expression for all citizens in its Article 24, there are numerous caveats, and furthermore the Penal code in Iran contains numerous articles that criminalise free expression: offenses such as ‘propaganda against the State’ carry with them penalties including prison, flogging, and even death. These laws remain vague and have not been adequately defined, allowing subjective and arbitrary interpretation.
Impact of Arrest on Mostafa Azizi’s family
“I’m still in shock,” Parastoo Azizi, Mostafa Azizi’s daughter told CBC. “My dad is innocent. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Arash Azizi told ARTICLE 19 that this has been a very difficult time, not just for his dad but for his family and friends. “This has affected a lot of people”, he said. “It’s been particularly hard on my sister. She can’t internalise why this would happen to such an innocent man.”
“The international attention on his case has helped my father’s morale in prison and also ours, knowing that we are not alone,” Arash told ARTICLE 19, “my dad loves his country and his love drove him back to Iran on promises from government officials that it is safe to return. We did not expect this. I think he loves Iran so much that he would stay in the country if and when he is released. We’re remaining hopeful still.”