Toronto

Mostafa Azizi, Toronto-based filmmaker, released from Iranian prison

A Toronto-based filmmaker has been released from an Iranian prison after serving one year of an eight-year sentence on charges that included insulting the country's supreme leader.

'We shall sleep calm tonight!!! My father is free!' daughter posts on Facebook

Toronto-based filmmaker Mostafa Azizi has been released from an Iranian prison after being sentenced to eight years behind bars on charges that included insulting the country's supreme leader. (Parastoo Azizi/Facebook)

A Toronto-based filmmaker has been released from an Iranian prison after serving one year of an eight-year sentence on charges that included insulting the country's supreme leader.

Arash Azizi, the son of Mostafa Azizi, a 54-year-old permanent Canadian resident, tweeted the news of his father's release Saturday at noon.

Azizi's daughter, Parastoo Azizi, told CBC News she spoke with her father briefly and that he was "really happy," though somewhat shocked at the sudden release.

"Finally after a more than a year of nightmares!! After more than a year of struggles!! We shall sleep calm tonight!!! My father is free!" she posted on Facebook.

In January 2015, Azizi was in Iran visiting relatives when he was arrested on charges of insulting its supreme leader and spreading propaganda against the state.

His son, Arash Azizi, told CBC News in March of last year that the specifics of the allegations against Azizi were unclear but were apparently in connection to posts he made on social media.

Azizi's daughter Parastoo Azizi posted this photo to Facebook on his most recent birthday, while her father was still imprisoned. Amnesty International campaigned for Azizi's release, calling him 'a prisoner of conscience.' (Parastoo Azizi/Facebook)

After being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison pending trial, Azizi was sentenced to eight years behind bars.

On Saturday, news of Azizi's release came as a welcome surprise to Canada's Iranian community.

"I'm absolutely thrilled," Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, a human rights activist and friend of Azizi's, told CBC News.

"It was very, very distressing and disheartening for the entire community see one of our brightest Iranian artists get imprisoned for absolutely no good reason, so to see him get released today is wonderful news."

One man free, another still imprisoned

But the good news about the Toronto filmmaker is renewing hopes that another Canadian man being held in Iranian custody may also be released.

Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian-born web programmer with permanent resident status in Canada was arrested in 2010 and confessed on Iranian television that he developed and promoted porn websites. He says he was forced to make the confessions by Iranian authorities and subjected to physical and psychological torture, according to a letter published online that his sister says he wrote from prison.

Yazdi, who has been campaigning to help free Malekpour with his family since his arrest, says she's hopeful that Azizi's release is a positive sign that he too could soon be free.

"It's not clear at this point how this came about, why he was released before the end of his sentence and whether this could mean something positive for Saeed Malekpour," she told CBC News.

Saeed Malekpour, a 35-year-old Canadian web programmer, was arrested in 2008 while visiting his ailing father in Iran. (Facebook)

The prospects for Malekpour's release seemed to dim completely when the Conservative government shut its embassy in Iran in 2012, Yazdi said.

But while the Liberal government's move to re-establish relations between Canada and the Iranian regime brought new hope for his case, Malekpour's sister Maryam urged caution by the Canadian government.

Human rights at the forefront

"I ask you to ensure that human rights — especially the case of Saeed and other Canada-linked prisoners (like Mostafa Azizi) — is always placed at the forefront of any talks with the government Iran," Maryam Malekpour wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion in January.

Yet Yazdi says Malekpour's sister has heard little about what the new government is doing to secure her brother's release.

"So far the Canadian authorities have not shown any sign that they're taking any kind of direct action to secure Saeed Malekpour's release," Yazdi said.

"We're hoping Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Dion will stand up for human rights and justice and give Saeed Malekpour the attention he deserves."

Though it did not mention anyone by name, the Department of Global Affairs said late Saturday it continues to monitor developments in Iran. 

"We are aware of reports of the release of a Canadian permanent resident from detention in Iran and continue to monitor the situation of other Canadian permanent residents who remain imprisoned there," the department said in a statement to CBC News. 

About the Author

Shanifa Nasser

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shanifa Nasser is an investigative journalist interested in national security and stories with a heartbeat. Before coming to CBC News, she was a Munk Fellow in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto. She also holds a Master's degree in Islamic Studies. shanifa.nasser@cbc.ca

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