Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post correspondent in Tehran imprisoned for more than 14 months has been convicted in an espionage trial that ended two months ago, Iranian State TV has reported.
News of a verdict in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court initially came early Sunday, but court spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei did not specify what the judgment was. In the State TV report late Sunday night, Ejei said definitively that Rezaian was found guilty.
But many details remained unknown. Rezaian faced four charges, the most of serious of which was espionage, and it’s unclear if he was convicted of all charges or just some. It also is not known what sentence has been imposed. The judge who heard the case is known for handing down harsh sentences, and he potentially faces a sentence of 10 to 20 years. It is not even known if Rezaian himself has been informed of the conviction.
Reflecting the murky nature of the trial that was held behind closed doors, Iranian TV quoted Ejei saying, “He has been convicted, but I don’t have the verdict’s details.”
Martin Baron, executive editor of the Post, called the guilty verdict “an outrageous injustice” and “contemptible.”
“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,” he said in a statement.
The Associated Press reported that Leila Ahsan, Rezaian’s lawyer said on Sunday that “there are no new developments” and that she had not received the verdict yet. She could not be reached for comment on Monday.
But Baron said there would be an appeal, and Ahsan is expected to ask the court to release Rezaian on bail until a final resoluton is made. Under Iranian law, Rezaian has 20 days to appeal.
“The contemptible end to this ‘judicial process’ leaves Iran’s senior leaders with an obligation to right this grievous wrong,” Baron said. “Jason is a victim — arrested without cause, held for months in isolation, without access to a lawyer, subjected to physical mistreatment and psychological abuse, and now convicted without basis. He has spent nearly 15 months locked up in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, more than three times as long than any other Western journalists.
“The only thing that has ever been clear about this case is Jason’s innocence. Any fair and just review would quickly overturn this unfounded verdict. Jason should be exonerated and released; he and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi , who has been out on bail, should both be granted, without delay, the full freedom that is their right.”
Rezaian, 39, was arrested on July 22, 2014. He has been held since then in Evin Prison, notorious in Iran as the place where many political prisoners are detained and interrogated. His trial was cloaked in secrecy, with even his wife and mother denied permission to attend. Rezaian’s brother, Ali, could not be immediately reached for a comment on the conviction.
President Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly suggested a prisoner exchange in recent weeks. He has said Iran might push to expedite freedom Rezaian and two other Iranian-Americans if the United States released Iranian citizens convicted of sanctions violations. Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho, is a pastor imprisoned for organizing home churches. Amir Hekmati of Flint, Mi. is a former Marine who has spent four years in prison since his arrest during a visit to see his grandmother.
Rezaian’s case attracted international attention as an example of Iranian government repression, despite its desire to emerge from decades of isolation and re-engage with the world.
The judge at the May 26 proceeding read the indictment against Rezaian, and the session was adjourned after about two hours. No family members or independent observers were allowed to attend.
Three subsequent sessions were held, one of them a day before the conclusion of a July 14 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, including the United States. The court held its final hearing in the case on Aug. 10, Rezaian’s attorney said. She did not provide details.
On the first anniversary of his detention, The Post formally petitioned the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for help in securing Rezaian’s release. The Post accused the Iranian government of flagrant human rights violations during the “arbitrary and unlawful” detention of the journalist.
The head of the working group and two other U.N. human rights experts expressed grave concern on Aug. 14 about his continued incarceration, saying that his legal rights and due process had been ignored and calling for his immediate release.
Top Iranian officials in September floated the idea of a prisoner exchange involving Rezaian and at least two other Americans held in Iran, but the Post reporter remained incarcerated while passing a grim milestone. By Oct. 10, he had been detained longer than the 52 Americans held during the Iranian hostage crisis three decades ago.
Rezaian was arrested along with his wife, Iranian journalist Yeganeh Salehi, when security forces raided their home on July 22, 2014. She was released on bail in October, but Rezaian languished in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for months without trial or even specific charges. He turned 39 there on March 15, having spent more time in detention than any other Western journalist in Iran, a country that ranked second only to China in the number of reporters it has jailed, according to a 2014 census published by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In a statement coinciding with the end of what he called the Revolutionary Court’s “sham trial,” Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said Rezaian was “targeted with nonsensical, unsupportable, and entirely baseless allegations of espionage and other offenses.” He urged senior Iranian leaders to “end this ‘judicial process,’ with its sick brew of farce and tragedy,” and exonerate Rezaian and his wife.
In a previous case that drew international attention, three American hikers who were charged with espionage after straying into Iran from the Iraqi region of Kurdistan in 2009 were eventually released after the payment of $465,000 “bail” for each of them. Sarah Shourd was freed after 14 months on “humanitarian grounds” because of her declining health, while Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer were held for two years before they were each sentenced to eight years in prison in August 2011 by the same judge who presided over Rezaian’s trial. Fattal and Bauer were nevertheless released and flown out of the country a month later.
Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker who served as Newsweek magazine’s Iran correspondent, was imprisoned at Evin for four months in 2009 and charged with spying before being released on $300,000 bail.
Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian American scholar, was arrested in 2007 while visiting her elderly mother and held at Evin for more than three months on charges of espionage and endangering national security. She was released on $333,000 bond.
In November 2014, Mohammed Javad Larijani, the head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights and a top adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, disclosed that security officials had filed charges against Rezaian alleging “that he was involved in activities beyond journalism.” Larijani said that meant activity that “breaches the security of the state,” though he offered no specifics.
He expressed hope that the prosecutor would simply drop the case, but he said it was also possible that the court could pardon Rezaian. He said he expected the case to be resolved “in less than a month.”
It nevertheless dragged on, and Rezaian’s family received new shocks in December , when he was officially charged with publicly unspecified offenses, and in January, when prosecutors announced that he would be tried by a Revolutionary Court. Two weeks later, the family said it was informed that the case had been assigned to Abolghassem Salavati, a hard-line judge known for imposing draconian sentences — including long prison terms, lashings and execution — on political prisoners and detainees deemed a threat to national security. Salavati has been under European Union sanctions since 2011.
After months of harsh treatment, including solitary confinement, that took a heavy toll on Rezaian’s physical and mental health, Iranian prison authorities allowed him to get outside medical treatment for chronic eye infections and painful groin inflammation, his brother, Ali Rezaian, said in February. Rezaian was also allowed several visits from his wife, who brought him care packages, and was placed in a cell with another prisoner, the brother said.
Then, more than seven months into his incarceration, Rezaian was granted permission to hire an attorney, his family announced March 1. But the Revolutionary Court rejected the lawyer chosen by his family, Masoud Shafiei, who had represented the three American hikers.
The Rezaian family then hired Leila Ahsan, an Iranian attorney who also represented Rezaian’s wife.
Ahsan disclosed in April that an indictment she was allowed to read charged Rezaian with espionage and three other serious crimes, including “collaborating with hostile governments” and “propaganda against the establishment.” Rezaian was also accused of gathering information “about internal and foreign policy” and providing it to “individuals with hostile intent.” As an example of his alleged contact with a “hostile government,” the indictment said he wrote to President Obama.
The trial proceedings indicated that some of the claims against Rezaian stemmed from a visit he made to a U.S. consulate regarding a visa for his wife and a letter he wrote seeking a job in the Obama administration in 2008 — material that was apparently taken from his confiscated laptop.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, Ahsan said.
Baron said on April 26 that Iran had produced “no evidence” that Rezaian “engaged in espionage or did anything other than report on what was happening in that country.” Appearing on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” program, The Post’s executive editor added, “In fact, most of his coverage focused on the culture and daily life of people in Iran.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said three days later that Rezaian may have been asked to gather information by someone working for the U.S. government. Speaking at a New York University forum, Zarif said a “low-level operative” may have tried to “take advantage” of Rezaian. He suggested that the reporter was vulnerable in seeking a U.S. visa for his wife.
To press for Rezaian’s release, the family launched an online petition that drew support from hundreds of thousands in more than 140 countries. The family also published an open letter to Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, the chief of the Iranian judiciary, complaining of “the ongoing disregard for the legal protections” that Iran’s constitution guarantees its citizens.
Born in Marin County, Calif., to an Iranian emigre father and an American mother, Rezaian moved to Iran in 2008 and worked as a journalist for publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle. He joined The Post in 2012 and wrote stories that he hoped would give readers a deeper and more nuanced view of Iran; one of the last before his arrest recounted the travails of the country’s fledgling baseball team.
Rezaian holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship. But Iran, which does not recognize dual nationality, barred any U.S. role in the case, including consular visits by diplomats representing U.S. interests. Diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran were severed in 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis.
Rezaian’s case came up repeatedly in talks in Switzerland between U.S. and Iranian negotiators over Tehran’s nuclear program. The U.S. side pressed for the release of the jailed journalist, as well as two other imprisoned Americans, and asked for information on an American who has been missing since he visited Iran’s Kish Island in 2007.
American boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who is popular in the Muslim world, weighed in on Rezaian’s behalf in March, urging Iranian authorities to free him.
But as Rezaian’s imprisonment continued, it became increasingly apparent that his case was caught up in internal rivalries in Iran between hard-liners implacably hostile to the United States and relative moderates supporting President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 on a platform of expanding personal freedoms and improving relations with the West.
With hard-liners, championed by Khamenei as the country’s overall religious and political leader, firmly in control of key levers of power, the case served to underscore the relative impotence of the Rouhani government in judicial and national security matters.