Yellow Ribbon Project

Detailing Torture and Harassment, Former Hostages Fight Back Against Iran

Another former American hostage held by Iran is suing the Islamic Republic for their wrongful detention and heinous treatment.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, along with his mother Mary and brother Ali, today filed a “civil action for damages caused by hostage taking and torture under Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act” against the government of Iran and the Revolutionary Guards Corps in the U.S. District Court in D.C.

The monetary demand “for injury and harm caused to the Plaintiffs by acts of terrorism, torture, and hostage taking against Plaintiffs,” as stated in the court filing, is “TBA.”

Summons were issued to the Iran government and the IRGC.

“The Iranian Government targeted and arrested Jason Rezaian, subjected him to torture and other cruel treatment, and held him hostage for the unlawful purpose of extorting concessions from the U.S. Government and others,” states the 68-page complaint. “…Plaintiffs’ nightmare began on July 22, 2014, when armed agents of Defendant IRGC forcefully entered the home of Jason and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and held them at gunpoint. IRGC agents proceeded to ransack their apartment, take them hostage, and transport them in the dead of night to Evin Prison on the outskirts of Tehran.”

“…For 544 terrifying days—from July 22, 2014, to January 16, 2016—IRGC and other Iranian agents tortured and tormented Jason using a cruel combination of harsh physical mistreatment and extreme psychological abuse. They held him in prolonged solitary confinement, deprived him of sleep, aggressively and relentlessly interrogated him, denied him basic medical treatment for serious and painful illnesses and infections, and threatened him with dismemberment, execution, and other forms of cruel and unusual physical torture.”

Rezaian’s Iranian captors also threatened to kill his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a fellow journalist who reported for a UAE paper, and other members of his family.

In addition, “Iran severely and intentionally exacerbated Jason’s illnesses, infections, and other health problems by subjecting him to prolonged physical mistreatment and psychological torture,” the lawsuit states.

For the first four months of his imprisonment, Rezaian was forced to sleep on “only a scrap of rug” on “cold, damp concrete.” Much of food he was given “contained concrete, rocks, dirt, or other foreign and inedible objects.”

Salehi was held and similarly tortured in Evin prison from July 22, 2014, to Oct. 5, 2014. “As a result of such extreme mistreatment, Yeganeh suffered from severe anxiety, paranoia, and other physical and psychological problems, all of which has permanently affected her relationship with Jason and her family and friends.”

After she was released on bail, Iranian agents “continued to follow, surveil, harass, threaten, and intimidate her and her family” and led her to believe Jason would die behind bars. “During Jason’s incarceration, Yeganeh felt such terror, trauma, and desperation that she contemplated suicide, believing that ending her own life might help obtain Jason’s release and demonstrate to the world the tragic consequences of Iran’s hostage taking, torture, and other crimes.”

Salehi’s “physical condition deteriorated to such an extent that, by the time of her release, she no longer could sit without losing feeling in her legs or fainting,” and “her hair grew matted and had to be shaved completely upon her release.” She suffered 19-hour stretches without water, 12 days in a cell without a restroom, and two four-hour interrogation sessions a day as they tried to get incriminating information about her husband.

The lawsuit describes Rezaian’s sham trial and notes that “to this day, Iran has not disclosed the terms of Jason’s supposed conviction or sentence.”

“Iranian officials saw opportunity in Jason as a high-profile prisoner who would be valuable in a trade to the United States and could be exchanged for something of significance to Iran,” continues the filing.

“…Although Jason survived and was released as part of the U.S.-Iranian prisoner exchange, Iran and the IRGC had already inflicted deep and permanent injuries on him, his wife, his mother, and his brother. For 544 days, Jason suffered such physical mistreatment and severe psychological abuse in Evin Prison that he will never be the same; he will require specialized medical and other treatment for the rest of his life.”

Rezaian’s wife, mother and brother, who campaigned tirelessly for his release, “were under severe psychological distress and suffered their own serious health problems.”

“Plaintiffs live in constant fear that Iranian agents are spying on them, plotting additional acts of terrorism, and planning ways to hurt them and their family members again. Plaintiffs fear that Iran will retaliate in some fashion against them and their family members for filing this Complaint, as Iran did in July 2015 when the family supported a petition before the United Nations (‘U.N.’) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calling for Jason’s release.”

The lawsuit notes that in September 2015 when Ali Rezaian traveled to Geneva to appeal his brother’s case before the UN Human Rights Council, Iranian agents “surveilled and harassed Ali and his counsel by following them around the U.N. complex for three days and attempting to eavesdrop on, record, and photograph their activities, including private meetings with representatives of Member States and NGOs.”

“When Ali made his presentation to the plenary session of the Human Rights Council, several members of the Iranian delegation occupied the seats immediately surrounding him and conspicuously photographed and recorded the activities with the apparent intention of intimidating and distracting Ali as he sought to tell his brother’s story.”

The filing also states that Iran would not accept Rezaian’s insistence that he was just a journalist — the Tehran bureau chief for the Post at the time — “because a journalist would have less ‘value’ than a ‘spy’ in any ‘swap’ with the U.S. Government.” He was told that “he would get a sentence, ‘pay his bill,’ and then go home when Iran got what it wanted from the United States.”

Salehi’s interrogators said she and the rest of Rezaian’s family would have to lobby President Obama “to agree to’give more’ or ‘do more’ to get Jason released.”

“In addition to serving as currency for a prisoner swap, Jason’s detention also was widely understood to be part of an effort by the IRGC to exert pressure on the nuclear negotiations and to extract concessions from the United States,” the court filing continues.

The State Department said today it would not comment on an “ongoing legal case.”

“I’ve seen media reports on that. I’m not going to comment on the specific details,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters at the daily briefing. “What I can say is that the safety and security of U.S. citizens remains our top priority, and we were determined to see Jason Rezaian and other American citizens released and returned to their families.”

In May, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, who was held for more than four years by the regime on trumped-up espionage charges, sued Iran for the torture he received in the notorious Evin prison.

Like Rezaian, Hekmati was one of the U.S. prisoners released in the post-nuclear deal hostage swap this January. The Iraq war vet was visiting extended family in Tehran for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized.

“Mr. Hekmati’s confinement caused him severe and extreme psychological distress, both during his imprisonment and after his release. Since returning home, Mr. Hekmati has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and other lasting psychological damage from his captivity and torture,” that lawsuit states.

The court filing, also in the U.S. District Court for D.C., stresses that “as a result of the personal injuries he has suffered due to acts of torture and hostage-taking, Mr. Hekmati is entitled to economic damages and compensatory damages for pain and suffering, all of which are recoverable under the [Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act].”