The trial of a Washington Post journalist detained in Iran for almost 10 months opens behind closed doors.
Freedom of expression and access to information continue to be restricted severely in Iran. Journalists and bloggers are frequently arrested, websites are blocked and a number of news outlets have been shut down. Hundreds of political prisoners, journalists and human rights activists remain in prison, some without facing trial. One of these is Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who was arrested in July last year after Iranian security forces raided his home.
Rezaian, a 38-year-old American-Iranian dual national, and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, Iran correspondent for The National, an English-language newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates, were arrested at gunpoint at their home on 22 July 2014. Salehi was released in October and warned not to work as a journalist again. Rezaian has been held without trial ever since. He has not been able to meet the defence lawyer hired by his family and his health has deteriorated as a result of over five months’ detention in solitary confinement.
Rezaian moved to Iran from California in 2008 and worked as a freelance journalist, based in Tehran, for publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle, GlobalPost, Slate and Monocle. He has been the Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent since 2012. His last story for the Post was about the growing popularity of baseball in Iran.
Rezaian was reportedly charged in January 2015 with national security offences. Since then, Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan, told Iranian state media that her client had been charged with “espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against” Iran. Many believe President Hassan Rouhani has little control over the country’s powerful security and intelligence agencies, which, since his election, have continued to crack down on the media and critics of the regime. At the time of Rezaian’s arrest, Reporters Without Borders noted:
Arbitrary arrests, illegal summonses, for example by intelligence officers of the Revolutionary Guards, are a daily reality for journalists in Iran. Media workers, particularly foreign journalists based in Tehran, are most often accused of spying. They are the victims of a policy of demonizing the foreign media, which is aggravated by the settling of scores among different groups engaged in a power struggle.
Rezaian’s trial opened today in Branch 15 of the Iranian Revolutionary Court, which deals with national security and political crimes. His case has been assigned to Abolghassem Salavati, a hardline judge known for delivering harsh sentences, including lashings and executions, who has been under European Union sanctions since 2011.
Iran does not recognise dual nationality and so Rezaian has not been granted any consular assistance. Rezaian’s family hired a high-profile Iranian lawyer, Masoud Shafii, who has experience of handling national security cases, to represent him. However, the court did not accept their choice of lawyer, instead appointing Ahsan, who also represents his wife. Rezaian was only allowed to meet her in March. A month previously he was allowed outside medical treatment for the first time and received some care packages. He was finally prescribed antibiotics for infections in his eye and groin area. He is currently being held in Evin prison in Tehran, where torture and other forms of ill-treatment are rife. The family has set up a petition on Change.org, where further updates to Rezaian’s case can be read. So far, the petition has collected over 230,000 signatures from more than seventy countries. United States Secretary of State John Kerry and boxer Muhammad Ali, a Muslim American like Rezaian, have called for his immediate release.
According to PEN, over twenty writers are currently detained or are on trial in Iran for the peaceful expression of their opinions. Iran is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary detention and protects the right to freedom of expression and fair trial. Iran has a history of arbitrarily detaining dual nationals, including academics Ramin Jahanbegloo, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh in 2006 and 2007, and journalists Roxana Saberi and Maziar Bahari in 2009.
Readers might like to send appeals urging the Iranian authorities to release journalist Jason Rezaian immediately and unconditionally if he is held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression; calling for him to be granted regular access to all necessary medical treatment and to his family; requesting clarification of the charges against him; and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all other writers and journalists currently detained in Iran in connection with the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.
Appeals to be addressed to:
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street – End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English)
The ambassador’s post is currently vacant, but readers can send copies of their appeal to firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an updated version of an article published in the Literary Review in March 2015