ARTICLE 19 calls for the immediate release of Iranian-Canadian television producer and author, Mostafa Azizi.
“Mostafa Azizi’s continued detention for peacefully expressing his opinion on social media is a clear violation of his right to free expression” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “Azizi’s prolonged solitary confinement, whilst suffering from deteriorating health, as well as fair trial concerns, is deeply troubling and exemplifies the Iranian authorities’ unjust and arbitrary repression of online dialogue.”
Mostafa Azizi, former Iran Chair for the International Animated Film Association, was arrested and moved to Iran’s notorious Evin prison on 1 February 2015, a month after his return. Azizi has been charged with “insulting the Supreme Leader”, “affronting the founder of the Islamic revolution”, “propagandising against the regime”, “conspiracy against the regime” and “conspiracy against public order”.
Journalist Arash Azizi, Mostafa Azizi’s son, told ARTICLE 19 that these charges are based on comments his father had allegedly made on social media, primarily on Facebook. “To my understanding these posts do not even exist anymore, but they continue to be the basis of the legal case against him”, Arash Azizi said.
The charges against Mostafa Azizi are evidence of the increasing clampdown on Iranians who use social media, with a special focus on those with dual nationalities – as seen in the cases of Jason Rezaian, Ghoncheh Ghavami and Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht.
As highlighted in ARTICLE 19’s oral statement at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Iran claims Article 25 of the Iranian Constitution – “Secrecy of Communication” – guarantees the right to privacy, yet, this right is routinely violated as the Constitution permits surveillance where communications are deemed contrary to domestic laws. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) cyberspace specialist, Mostafa Alizadeh, admitted this year that the IRGC maintain intelligence control over all social networks, monitoring all “suspicious” activity. The chilling effect on freedom of expression of such monitoring can be seen in the case of Soheil Arabi, who was sentenced to death in August 2014 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. The Supreme Court’s ruling also arbitrarily and unlawfully found Arabi responsible for “corruption on earth”.
In April 2014, Iran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced eight young Iranians who had been active on Facebook to a total of 127 years in prison, which was reduced to 114 years on appeal. They were found guilty of “acting against national security,” “spreading propaganda against the state,” and “insulting Islam and state officials.”
ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the conditions of detention are taking a toll in Azizi’s health, following his placement under solitary confinement for 14 days in the IRGC controlled Ward 2-A, before being transferred to Evin prison Ward 8/ Unit 7. Concerned about his father’s health, his son Arash has stated that “Solitary confinement was clearly a form of torture for him […] he came out shaking and unable to talk to anyone for a few days.” Azizi’s son was informed mid-April that his father had been transferred to the prison’s clinic after fainting. “My father suffers from asthma, eczema, rheumatism and high-blood sugar. Jail is not good for him or for anyone with medical conditions. We want him to be at least released on bail to receive the care he requires”.
ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that Azizi’s trial will not take place in accordance with international human rights standards for fair trial. Azizi’s trial is schedule for 1 June at the District 15 Revolutionary Court where sensitive cases are tried, presided over by Iran’s infamous Judge Abloghassem Salavati. Salavati is known for heading some of Iran’s most controversial trials, and is one of six judges spearheading the continuous crackdown on journalists, political activists and artists. In the past, Salavati has imposed unjustly long prison sentences – and in some cases the death penalty – for defendants of high-profile ‘national security’ and ‘political offences’ cases. He has also been known to grant highly politicised verdicts, leading to unfair trials and sentences based on forced confessions. He has been sanctioned by the European Union since 2011.
Azizi left Iran after the 2009 election protests, before returning in January of this year. His decision to return was partly motivated by statements from numerous Iranian officials – including President Hassan Rouhani – encouraging Iranians in exile to return. Iranian authorities had suggested establishing the Committee for the Return of Expat Iranians, under Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in an attempt to facilitate the return of exiled political activists to their home country.
“My dad wanted to return as he had hoped that he would be safe. He loves his country and had real intentions of making a life there again as a law-abiding citizen,” Arash Azizi said. “He also wanted to see his ailing father, who is so ill that he hasn’t been able to make a prison visit.”
Arash Azizi has stressed that both he and his father – though the latter has only limited communication from inside prison – want attention to be brought to the dozens of unnamed people in prison for peacefully expression their opinions. “My dad has been making friends in prison with many others that have been serving years inside…from my own research I am shocked at the high numbers of prisoners that have similar cases to my father”. He continues, “We need to keep talking about my father’s case, but also about the others like him who are imprisoned for expressing their opinions…he is lucky as his story is now well-known, but many are not as lucky to get the same amount attention to their cases”.