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Radio Farda Correspondent Azima Allowed To Leave Iran; Legal Concerns Remain

(Washington, DC–September 18, 2007) Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima, a virtual prisoner in Iran for more than eight months, has left Iran and is en route to the United States — but criminal charges against her have not been lifted.

RFE/RL President Jeff Gedmin welcomed news of Azima’s departure, saying: “For eight long months, Parnaz’ colleagues at RFE/RL have been waiting for the day when she will be a free person again. We are happy Parnaz can finally be reunited with her family and see her newborn grandchild for the first time.” But Gedmin said he remains concerned because a legal cloud still hangs over Azima.

A citizen of both the U.S. and Iran, Azima’s Iranian passport was confiscated on arrival in Tehran in late January to visit her ailing mother. She has been charged with acting against Iranian national security and spreading anti-Iranian propaganda by working for “counterrevolutionary” Radio Farda. The criminal case against her remains active and the deed to her mother’s house in Tehran, offered in lieu of $550,000 in bail, has not been returned. Azima has rejected the charges, stating repeatedly that she was only doing her job as a journalist.

She was trapped in Iran with three other Iranian-Americans. Woodrow Wilson International Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari returned to the U.S. earlier this month after spending 105 days in prison, while Open Society Institute consultant Kian Tajbakhsh and peace activist Ali Shakeri remain in jail.

Gedmin said: “I and the entire RFE/RL family express our profound thanks to everyone who has kept Parnaz in their hearts during this long ordeal — from representatives of the U.S. Government and members of the U.S. Congress, to officials at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, to the many non-governmental organizations, groups and individuals that raised their voices to demand Parnaz’ freedom and the freedom of all the innocent Iranian-Americans being held by the Iranian government. We join our voice to theirs in demanding freedom for jailed Iranian-Americans, and Iranian prisoners of conscience.”

Azima was scheduled to leave on Saturday, September 15, but was prevented from doing so by customs officials who insisted that, because she had been in Iran for more than eight months, she was now legally considered a resident of Iran and had to have her passport amended to reflect this.

Azima is a broadcaster with Radio Farda, the joint RFE/RL-Voice of America 24-hour, seven-day-a-week Persian-language broadcast service to Iran. She joined RFE/RL in 1998 and is based at RFE/RL’s broadcast headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic. To learn more about the Azima case, visit the “Soft Hostages in Iran” page on RFE/RL’s website.