Activist Shokoufeh Azar Masouleh has written a letter from prison, calling attention to her continued incarceration.
The activist has spent more than seven months in prison, unable to post the bail money that would allow her release while she awaits trial. She has been denied access to a lawyer and not allowed visitors.
Shokoufeh Azar Masouleh was studying for a mid-term exam in international business when Intelligence Ministry agents arrived at her house on June 8, 2015 and arrested her. They did not produce a summons and and gave her no reason for the arrest. They searched her home, went through her belongings and took her away. She remains in detention today.
Shokoufeh Azar Masouleh — also known as Parisa Azadi — has no immediate family, as her parents have died and she is an only child. As a result, she has no one to support her as she pursues her case, and no one is allowed to visit her in prison. “Shokoufeh was interrogated for two weeks at Evin Prison’s Intelligence Ward 209,” an informed source told IranWire. “After almost two months, Evin’s Prosecution Office Branch 6 informed her of the charges against her: propaganda against the regime, activities against national security by conspiracy and participation in illegal gatherings.”
One specific charge against Shokoufeh Azar relates to her participation in a protest against acid attacks on women in Isfahan. Women’s rights and civil rights activists staged the rally on October 22, 2014 outside the Iranian parliament in Tehran, demanding protection for women and for action to be taken to prevent similar attacks happening in the future. Authorities arrested a number of civil activists following the protest, including Mahdieh Golroo.
Authorities also targeted Shokoufeh Azar for her participation in a sit-in organized by prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. Sotoudeh and supporters protested outside the Iranian Bar Association in protest against the Lawyers Disciplinary Court’s decision to hand down a three-year ban against Sotoudeh practicing law. Activists staged the sit-in daily for a period of nine months from October 21, 2014 to June 25, 2015. Many civil rights and political activists, as well as ordinary citizens protesting against continued violations of human rights, joined the protest, showing their support for Sotoudeh and taking photographs with her, talking amongst themselves and holding banners that called for the government to honor citizens’ right to dissent, work and travel.
Initially, the court set a bail of around $24,000 for Azar’s release while awaiting trial. Later, it increased the amount to almost $34,000. Because she has no family, Azar cannot turn to anyone to help her post bail or pursue her case. As a result, she has spent more than seven months in prison.
In January 2016, Azar wrote to the human rights organization Justice For Iran, describing her grim situation. “For the six months after my arrest, I have been denied visitors,” she wrote. “My parents have passed away and I am an only child. They have not even allowed me to have regular phone contact with my relatives to pursue the progress of the case. I have not been able to consult my lawyer or have a phone conversation with my lawyer.”
“Once every two months, after writing numerous letters to the officials of the Women’s Ward, the Verdict Execution Bureau and others, I have been allowed to contact my relatives on the phone,” the letter said. “In effect, for the past six months, I have had almost no contact with the world outside the prison. I have written numerous letters to prison officials asking to meet with my lawyer and to clarify my situation but practically nothing has been done."
According to an informed source who spoke to IranWire, Azar’s trial has yet to be set and her lawyer has not been able to see her case file.
This time last year, Shokoufeh Azar was dreaming of studying for her Ph.D. But now, her life has been turned upside down. “Last year, I was preparing myself for my mid-term exams and for to defend my Major's dissertation,” her letter said. “I was planning for the coming years and to continue my education. I was dreaming of passing the tests for the Ph.D. program. I cannot believe that a year on I am looking at an unjust indictment, locked up in the Women’s Ward, with an uncertain future, education and job. I have 10 years’ experience working for a private company as the director of quality control for supply to auto parts companies, including SAIPA, Pars Khodro and Zamyad. I worked for years to be accepted into graduate school and my grade-point average throughout this term has been excellent. Now I have lost two semesters. I am accused of participating in illegal gatherings — but according to Article 27 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, this activity is completely legal.”
In her letter, Shokoufeh Azar describes her situation with passion and clarity. Justice For Iran and other human rights organizations are listening, but the question is: will the government and Iran’s judiciary take note?