Mostafa Azizi sentenced to 8 years in Iranian prison

A man with Canadian permanent resident status has been sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison.

Mostafa Azizi faced charges of collusion against Iran, insulting the supreme leader

Mostafa Azizi, a Toronto-based filmmaker, has been sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison. (Mahdi Delkhasteh)

A man with Canadian permanent resident status has been sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison.

Mostafa Azizi, 53, was sentenced Monday in Iran on charges of collusion against Iran and insulting the supreme leader. The charges apparently stem from some of Azizi's social media posts.

"I'm still in shock," says Parastoo Azizi, his daughter, who lives in Toronto.

Mostafa Azizi, a prominent filmmaker, emigrated to Canada with his family in 2008. His children have Canadian citizenship, and Azizi is a permanent resident who was in the process of gaining citizenship.

Azizi recently travelled back to Iran to visit his relatives. During that trip, Azizi was arrested and held in Tehran's Evin prison. After his trial, he was sentenced to eight years in prison. 

"My dad is innocent," says Parastoo Azizi. "He hasn't done anything wrong."

Mostafa Azizi is appealing his case.

Consular assistance 'virtually impossible'

Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada is aware of reports of Azizi's sentence, spokeswoman Josephine Laframboise said in a statement.

Canada advises citizens from travelling to Iran for any reason and closed its embassy in Tehran in September 2012.

"Iran ... systematically violates human rights with little or no due process," she said. "Individuals are regularly arbitrarily arrested and detained."

The department specifically warns Iranian-Canadians that they may be more likely to face investigation and harassment from Iranian authorities. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, which "makes it virtually impossible for Government of Canada officials to provide consular assistance to Iranian-Canadians in difficulty," according to the department's website.

Amnesty International is trying to free several Iranian-Canadians who have been arrested in Iran on their way back to Canada.

"It's really an alarming trend," says Gloria Nafziger, who works with the organization's Canadian chapter. People who believe that they are free to return to Iran have gone back to visit only to find themselves tried and convicted on "what seems to be really frivolous charges," she says.

Canada has a hard time helping Canadians detained in Iran, she says.

"We don't have any diplomatic relationship with Iran, and so the extent of our ability to intervene on behalf of people with ties to Canada is very, very limited."

Evin prison known for brutal conditions

Parastoo Azizi spoke with her father briefly earlier this week. He's "holding up" emotionally, she says. But his physical state "is not really good."

Mostafa Azizi has been held in Tehran's Evin prison since shortly after he arrived in Iran in January 2015.

The prison is known for its brutal conditions. Former prisoners have shared stories of solitary confinement, torture and brutality that some say has scarred their lives irreparably. Canadian writer Marina Nemat spent two years in Evin prison, where she was forced to marry her prison interrogator. She says she was also raped, lashed on the soles of her feet and put in front of a firing squad. 

Azizi has spent more than two weeks in solitary confinement, his son, Arash, says, before being placed in the general population.

It's unclear which of Mostafa Azizi's social media postings alerted Iranian authorities, says Sima Sahar Zerehi, a journalist with Shahrvand Publications who also occasionally works for CBC. 

She is shocked by the sentence for Azizi, who became a prominent cultural figure in Toronto's Iranian community after his emigration.

"It's a very sad day for Iranian Canadians to see someone who was part of our community, who was part of our neighbourhood, who was very active face something as draconian as eight years in Iranian prison."