Iran has reportedly convicted a Washington Post reporter of espionage more than a year after his arrest — but the details, including any sentence, are a mystery even to his family.
The state TV report late Sunday didn’t detail the conviction — the charges were “espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic” — but quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie saying that the California native could appeal within 20 days or “the verdict will become final.”
Rezaian, who has reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. His wife, Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian who reported in Tehran for the UAE newspaper The National, was released on bail last October.
Jason brother Ali Rezaian said in a statement that the announcement “is unfortunately just another sad chapter in his 14-month illegal imprisonment and opaque trial process.”
“It follows an unconscionable pattern by Iranian authorities of silence, obfuscation, delay and a total lack of adherence to international law, as well as Iranian law. The Iranian government has never provided any proof of the trumped up espionage and other charges against Jason, so today’s vague statement on a purported verdict, while certainly disappointing to our family, is not surprising,” Ali said.
“While the status of any verdict in his case remains unclear, there is much about Jason we know for certain. Jason was simply a journalist doing his job and following all the rules when he was wrongly arrested and imprisoned in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison. He is an innocent man that has been kept under harsh conditions to the detriment of his health and well-being for nearly 450 days. There is worldwide condemnation for the Iranian government’s unlawful detention of Jason and calls from across the globe for his immediate release. We remain hopeful that Jason will soon be released and reunited with this family.”
Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron called the verdict an “outrageous injustice” and said they were already at work on an immediate appeal.
“Iran has behaved unconscionably throughout this case, but never more so than with this indefensible decision by a Revolutionary Court to convict an innocent journalist of serious crimes after a proceeding that unfolded in secret, with no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing,” Baron said.
“The only thing that has ever been clear about this case is Jason’s innocence.”
The “evidence” against Rezaian, who has worked for the Post since 2012, included a U.S. visa application for his wife and an online interest form for President Obama’s 2008 transition team.
“He said, ‘I’ve lived in Iran, I love Iran, I grew up in the United States, I love the United States, I want our countries to be more harmonious. How can I help you guys out? Is there anything I can do in the upcoming administration?’ That’s basically the extent of that letter,” Ali Rezaian told Bloomberg News, adding, “It wasn’t officially an application for a job.”
In a June House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Rezaian and the other American hostages in Iran — Marine vet Amir Hekmati, Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini, and retired FBI agent Bob Levinson — Ali told lawmakers that “while in prison, Jason has suffered painful and debilitating infections, and he has lost more than 40 pounds.”
“He also has chronic high blood pressure and a respiratory condition that is exacerbated during the hot summer months in Tehran. He is often kept in solitary confinement, and allowed only minimal human interaction,” Ali continued.
Today, committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noted that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif — Secretary Kerry’s nuclear negotiating partner — “earlier this year claimed that ‘we do not jail people for their opinions,'” but “he’s a boldfaced liar.”
“At every step, there has been absolutely no transparency in Jason’s so-called trial. His sentencing is another sham step in a sham process,” Royce blasted. “The only certain thing over the past 14 months of Jason’s imprisonment has been the regime’s contempt for human rights and the United States.”
“Both in its nuclear negotiations and its consideration of Americans detained in Iran, the administration has shown a dangerous naivety regarding who it is dealing with. The administration didn’t get Jason released when it had the leverage of the nuclear agreement. It must redouble efforts to get Jason and the other imprisoned Americans home now.”
Wendy Sherman, the former undersecretary of State who led the U.S. team at the nuclear negotiating table, told NPR a few days ago that they “were very careful… to keep a separate track on getting our American citizens home, both those that are detained and those missing.”
“And all throughout these negotiations, we had a separate track that I conducted on the margins of the negotiations, but very consciously keeping it separate because we did not want the Iranians to say to us, ‘Well, if you give us this on nuclear weapons, then you’ll free up the Americans.’ We did not want them to be held hostage to these negotiations,” Sherman said.
“None of us wanted to fold this into the nuclear negotiation. The Iranians did not, either. I do not want to leave that impression. The reason I am not giving you a direct answer is because I’m trying to protect the ongoing discussions that are taking place. But no one thought, either the Iranians or the Americans, that this should be folded into the nuclear negotiation.”
Iran is thought to be seeking the release of some of its people being held by the United States in a swap of sorts for one of more of the Americans.
Hekmati heard this from his jailers early in his captivity, and smuggled a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to not do it. “I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the U.S. Government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition,” wrote Hekmati.
On May 28, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham accused the United States of “projection” when it demanded the return of hostages. “They should take a look at the unfair prosecution of Iranian citizens who are jailed in the U.S. on baseless charges,” she said.
Just a week ago, the intelligence arm of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps issued a report stating that Rezaian “has had the duty to exercise the thoughts of those people in the US Senate who believe that if the US can revive its pre-Revolution relations with Iran, the Iranian government can be overthrown easily.”
The next day, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported about a dozen Iranian lawmakers charged that Rezaian ran U.S. intelligence operations in the Islamic Republic.
“It is for over one year now that the professional spy who ran the US intelligence center in Tehran has been arrested; Jason Rezaian has been supported by the US during his detention and they have repeatedly asked our (nuclear) negotiating team to release him alleging that he is a journalist,” the lawmakers said in their notification to Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, asking that he publicly broadcast interrogation videos of Rezaian.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) noted that Rezaian “is known by many in Tehran,” including Zarif, “as a ‘good’ and ‘decent’ reporter.”
“But that didn’t protect him from being tortured, abused, and wrongly convicted by the same regime that will be trusted to inspect itself under a nuclear deal that will give Iran legitimacy and billions in cash,” Boehner said. “President Obama needs to think long and hard before moving forward.”