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," and a little bit 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.
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 calls for the release of another Toronto-area man being held in Iranian custody.
Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian-born web programmer with permanent resident status in Canada and a resident of Richmond Hill, Ont., was arrested in 2010 and confessed on Iranian television that he developed and promoted porn websites. His supporters say he was forced to make the confessions by Iranian authorities.
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.
But 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.