A Washington Post reporter went on closed-door trial today in Iran on charges of espionage as it was announced that, for the first time, all families of the U.S. hostages held in the Islamic Republic will come before Congress on the same panel.
Jason Rezaian, who has reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. His wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a reporter for UAE English-language newspaper The National, was also detained and released in October. She will be tried separately.
Jason’s brother, Ali, will speak for his family at the June 2 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Both are California natives with an Iranian-born father.
Also on the panel will be Sarah Hekmati, sister of U.S. Marine vet Amir Hekmati, an Arizona native who was seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011.
Nagameh Abedini, who has previously testified before Congress on threats to religious freedom, will speak on behalf of her husband, Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini. He was convicted in January 2013 of establishing Christian house churches while in the country to set up a government-sanctioned orphanage.
Daniel Levinson will testify on behalf of his father, Bob Levinson. The former FBI agent went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family later received images of him in captivity, though the Iranian government has maintained they don’t know who is holding him.
After hearing from the families, the committee will mark up up a resolution calling for the immediate release of the Americans held by Iran. It was introduced by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who is Hekmati’s congressman, and sponsored by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who represents Rezaian’s district, Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who represents Abedini, and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), representing Levinson’s district. The bill is now up to 145 co-sponsors.
Last month, PJ Media asked representatives of relevant House and Senate committees if they were considering bringing the families together for a hearing as the administration negotiates a final nuclear agreement with Iran. One Foreign Affairs aide said they could “definitely try” to host the families at an upcoming hearing, while Senate staffers said there were no hearing plans in the works in the upper chamber.
The timing couldn’t be more critical as Rezaian faces a judge so renowned for harsh sentences that he was sanctioned by the European Union in 2011 for human rights abuses.
“In charge of the post-election cases, he was the Judge presiding the ‘show trials’ in summer 2009, he condemned to death two monarchists that appeared in the show trials. He has sentenced more than a hundred political prisoners, human rights activists and demonstrators to lengthy prison sentences,” says the description of Abdolghassem Salavati on the EU blacklist.
Today’s hearing for Rezaian lasted only two hours, according to Iranian state media, and the next hearing date was not set. The Iranians have insisted it’s a domestic matter and they won’t allow international observers.
Post executive editor Martin Baron said in a statement Monday that “the shameful acts of injustice continue without end in the treatment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian.”
“Now we learn his trial will be closed to the world. And so it will be closed to the scrutiny it fully deserves,” Baron wrote. “It’s worth recalling what kind of system we’re dealing with. Jason was arrested without charges. He was imprisoned in Iran’s worst prison. He was placed in isolation for many months and denied medical care he needed. His case was assigned to a judge internationally notorious for human rights violations. He could not select the lawyer of his choosing. He was given only an hour and a half to meet with a lawyer approved by the court. No evidence has ever been produced by prosecutors or the court to support these absurd charges. The trial date was only disclosed to Jason’s lawyer last week. And now, unsurprisingly but unforgivably, it turns out the trial will be closed.”
Baron said a visa request by the paper for a senior editor to attend the trial was ignored by authorities.
“There is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it, and yet the fate of a good, innocent man hangs in the balance,” he added. “Iran is making a statement about its values in its disgraceful treatment of our colleague, and it can only horrify the world community.”
According to Iran’s Press TV, Rezaian is charged with “espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
He’s been denied medical treatment and legal counsel while enduring harsh interrogations and prison conditions.
When asked April 29 about Rezaian, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the reporter would have to face his day in court, adding, “I hope that no one – nobody will be lingering in prison, including a lot of Iranians who committed no crime across the world but are waiting in prison to be extradited to the United States for violating U.S. sanctions, which are illegal anyway.”
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said today that the administration is following the case, but acknowledged they can only follow the proceedings so much due to the secretive nature.
“We continue to monitor this as closely as possible, and we continue to call for all of the absurd charges to be dropped and for Jason Rezaian to be released immediately,” Rathke said. “It certainly adds to our concerns and it fits, unfortunately, into a pattern of a complete lack of transparency and the lack of due process that we’ve seen since Jason Rezaian was first detained. So while we call for his trial to be open, we also maintain that he should never have been detained or put on trial in the first place.”
He reiterated the administration’s assertion that U.S. officials “always raise the cases of detained and missing U.S. citizens with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the P5+1 talks and the other interactions that happen in that context, and we will continue to do that until all of them are home.”