An Iranian appeals court has sentenced the prominent television producer and writer Mostafa Azizi to two years in prison, reducing his initial sentence of eight years, according to his son.
Mostafa Azizi, a Canadian resident, was arrested in February 2015 while visiting his family in Iran. He was convicted of several offenses for exercising his right to freedom of expression, including posting on social media.
In June 2015, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Azizi to eight years in prison on charges of “collusion against national security,” “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “spreading propaganda against the system.”
Before his trial took place, he spent a month in solitary confinement in Section 2A of Evin Prison, which is run by the Revolutionary Guards, where he was harshly interrogated and given no access to his family or a lawyer. He was then transferred to Evin’s communal Ward 8.
Azizi’s case was reportedly heard by Branch 54 of the Appeals Court, which is presided over by Judge Hassan Babaee, on September 20, 2015. Babaee reduced his prison sentence from eight to two years.
Speaking to Journalism Is Not A Crime, his son, Arash Azizi, said the family was given the news last month. Having spent more than a year in prison already, Azizi now has 10 months left to serve.
“We are happy his sentence has been reduced, but 10 more months is still a long time,” says Arash, who is based in Germany. “He is not very good health-wise. Prison has taken its toll on him. He suffers from a range of problems, and the conditions of prison – it being over-crowded and not clean – haven’t been kind to him. We were hoping this would finish much earlier.”
The 53-year-old television producer suffers from a range of health conditions, including asthma, eczema, rheumatism and high blood sugar levels. Ward 8 of Evin Prison, where Azizi is held, is filthy and severely overcrowded, poorly ventilated, and lacks adequate sleeping and sanitation facilities, causing his health to deteriorate further.
On March 19, 2016, Azizi was given a two-week furlough from prison for the Iranian New Year, Nowruz. He is due to return to jail on April 2 to serve the rest of his sentence, but the family hopes he will qualify for conditional release, which, according to Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, can be granted to prisoners after half of the sentence is served.
“I’m elated because he’s out for the New Year and able to see his family. It’s a relief to him,” Arash said. “But I’m also concerned for 10 more months in prison, because of two things: His own health is not the best. And his father’s health is bad; he needs the care of his son.”
Azizi’s professional career began in 1986 at the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). In 1994, he started his own private production company and produced popular television programs, which were broadcast by IRIB.
In 2010, Azizi moved to Canada, but traveled back to Iran in January 2015 to visit his family and consider the possibility of returning home. According to his son, he intends to stay in Iran after he leaves prison.
“If he wanted to be in Canada he would not have returned,” Arash said. “Optimism has long been the hallmark of our family. He’s ready to serve the sentence with his head high. And when he comes out of prison, he wants to stay in Iran.”
Dual citizens or Iranians who have lived abroad face a high risk if they choose to live in Iran. Although Iran’s moderate president Rouhani has encouraged Iranians in the diaspora to return, many have been arrested and prosecuted – often accused of being spies – when they have done so.
A well-known case is that of American-Iranian Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist who spent 18 months in Evin Prison on espionage charges. He was released in January 2016 along with and three other US-Iranian nationals in a prisoner swap between Iran and the United States.