American Detained in Iran Appeals for State Dept. Help

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

Parnaz Azima, one of several Americans detained in Iran, said yesterday that her lawyers and Iranian officials have warned that her case could take years to resolve and appealed to the State Department to keep pressure on Tehran over the fate of the imprisoned or detained Americans.

Azima, a correspondent for U.S.-funded Radio Farda, has been charged with endangering Iran's national security by promoting anti-revolutionary propaganda and receiving illicit funds from the U.S. government. She has been detained in Iran since her passport was confiscated in January. While three other dual U.S.-Iranian citizens are imprisoned, she is out on bail.

"The Iran government pretends that it doesn't care about Western government reaction, but in fact they consider it very much. It's very important that the State Department keeps talking about and putting pressure on the Iranian government," she said in a telephone interview from Tehran.

An Iranian judge said yesterday that two other Americans imprisoned for alleged espionage and acts endangering national security -- scholar Haleh Esfandiari of Potomac and social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh of New York -- have acknowledged conducting "some activities" and suggested that other suspects have been identified, Iran's ISNA news agency reported.

Rejecting claims of their innocence from senior U.S. officials, including President Bush, Judge Hossein Haddad of Tehran's revolutionary court said they had been arrested "on the basis of firm grounds" provided by Iran's ministry of intelligence. "There were a lot of investigations in this field, and we've reached very good results," Haddad, a deputy in Tehran's revolutionary court, told the agency. "They accepted that they took some activities but they say their aim was to help."

Both family members and employers rebutted the accusations. "Since my wife has been kept incommunicado and can't speak for herself, nothing that is alleged by judicial authorities in Tehran is plausible because it is not independently verifiable," said Esfandiari's husband, Shaul Bakhash. Esfandiari, who was detained May 8 after more than four months of house arrest, directs Middle East programs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In New York, the Open Society Institute dismissed any "admissions" by Tajbakhsh because he is in Evin Prison without access to lawyers. Tajbakhsh, who works for the institute on HIV/AIDS and drug-addiction programs, has been detained since May 11.

Haddad said Azima's case is ready to be sent to court, although Azima said in the interview that she had not been informed of what will happen next. "This is my fifth month living like this. It's just like living in prison, but a larger one," she said. She believes her home and activities are monitored and her telephone is tapped. During an earlier interrogation, she was shown photographs taken in front of her home and questioned about people who had visited her, she said.

Late yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution demanding that Iran immediately release the five Americans -- Esfandiari, Tajbakhsh, Azima, California businessman Ali Shakeri and a fifth unnamed person -- and allow them to leave Iran. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), says the Iranian government has not produced evidence of wrongdoing by the Americans.

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