The family of a Toronto filmmaker who was imprisoned while visiting Iran are overjoyed by his release — but concerned about many more prisoners whose only crimes, they say, are posts they've made on social media critical of the county's regime.
Mostafa Azizi, 54, was released from an Iranian prison on Saturday after serving about one year of an eight-year sentence for charges of insulting the country's leader and spreading propaganda against the state. As far as his family knows, the charges stem from online posts the Iranian-born permanent resident made while in Canada.
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"This is not the end," his daughter Parastoo Azizi told CBC News on Sunday, adding that her heart remains with others who are still imprisoned.
"Now I can truly feel their pain. There are so many more political prisoners in Iran — so many more people who are in prison just for what they believe," she said.
Parastoo said she received the good news in a text message from an aunt living in Iran, and immediately phoned to hear her father's voice.
'Don't jinx it, we don't know what's going to happen.' — Arash Azizi on his family's reaction to his father's pending release
"He was like, 'I'm free!' And then we just laughed. People were pulling the phone from him, it wasn't much of a talk but he was really happy. We both were really happy," she said.
Her brother, Arash, who is in Bosnia, had heard earlier his dad might be released.
"We weren't sure until he [came] out of the door," he said. "I called my family and they were still very anxious. They said, 'Don't jinx it, we don't know what's going to happen.'"
Azizi had earlier managed to reduce his sentence to two years and a hefty fine. Arash said his prospects looked even better shortly after Nowruz, the Persian new year, when the country's supreme leader announced an amnesty for those imprisoned for certain kinds of crime, including insults against him.
But the family remained cautious until he walked out of the prison gates.
"It was a wild moment, really," Arash said.
Chilling effect on expression
Yet Arash also remains concerned about the regime's apparent monitoring of its citizens even abroad.
"If you were going to worry about every social media post you make … what a chilling effect it has," he said.
"Expressing your opinion on Facebook shouldn't be cause for putting people in jail in the first place."
Speaking from Toronto, Parastoo echoed those concerns.
"I am Iranian and I am Canadian as well. I am connected to both countries and I wish to travel freely between both countries … but it is difficult because you never know what they are monitoring."
As Azizi walked free on Saturday, another Canadian permanent resident remained behind bars in Iran.
Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian-born web programmer, was arrested in Iran in 2010. According to his sister Maryam, Malekpour was subjected to physical and psychological torture and forced to confess to crimes of developing and promoting porn sites.
Human rights 'serious concern'
Malekpour's sister remains hopeful that the Canadian government, which lifted numerous sanctions against Iran in February, will press the Iranian regime to do more to secure her brother's release.
In a statement to CBC News Global Affairs Canada said the human rights condition in Iran is a "serious concern," but because Canada's embassy there is closed, Ottawa's sway with the regime is "severely limited."
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Parastoo, who says she knows Malekpour's sister, says she too hopes that will change.
"I truly truly hope for his release… We wrote a letter together to the Prime Minister and asked for his help for the release of our family members...I truly hope he will be back here with us soon as well," Parastoo said.
Care for a fellow Canadian
Meanwhile, she and her brother said they don't know when their father might return to Canada. His permanent residency expired while he was in custody and his bank accounts were closed.
At the moment Arash says his father is still taking in the news but is glad to be free and grateful for the well-wishes from all those back home.
"As a family, what went through would have been a thousand times harder if it wasn't for the support of [people] who could barely pronounce our names but cared for a fellow Canadian … and from that beautiful city of Toronto that he called home and I call home."
But although his father is free today, Arash said, "Hundreds more are not."