Arrested one year ago on espionage and propaganda charges, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian remains imprisoned as his trial continues in a closed Iranian court. An infamous judge known for committing human rights abuses presides over his trial and has only permitted Rezaian to consult with his defense attorney once since his arrest. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent a letter on Monday to the head of the Iranian judiciary requesting the immediate release of Rezaian, while the U.S. State Department has called for the release of Rezaian and three other Americans detained in Iran.
Born and raised in Marin County, California, Rezaian worked as a journalist in San Francisco before moving to Iran and later becoming The Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent in 2012. On the evening of July 22, 2014, Iranian government security forces raided Rezaian’s home in Tehran and arrested the Washington Post bureau chief and his wife, who was also a journalist. After two and a half months in prison, Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, was released on bail on October 6, 2014, but is prohibited from discussing the case against her husband and barred from leaving the country.
Charged with espionage, collaborating with hostile governments, propaganda against the establishment, and allegations that he gathered information about internal and foreign policy, Rezaian remains in custody at Evin Prison, a detention center in Tehran known for housing intellectuals and political prisoners. Initially denied access to his blood pressure medication and held in solitary confinement for several months, Rezaian’s mental and physical health continues to deteriorate while enduring frequent interrogations and psychological abuse. According to his family, Iranian officials have taunted Rezaian with the possibility of freedom but have repeatedly taken it away from him.
After months of being denied legal counsel, Rezaian finally met with his lawyer earlier this year to discuss the charges against him. On May 26, Rezaian’s trial began at Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, which oversees national security cases. According to Rezaian’s brother, Ali, the Iranian government is only presenting two pieces of evidence against Rezaian. Their evidence of espionage includes an American visa application for Rezaian’s wife and a letter Rezaian wrote to President Obama’s 2008 White House transition team offering help to improve the tenuous diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran.
Placed on a European Union blacklist for committing human rights abuses, Judge Abolghassem Salavati is presiding over Rezaian’s trial. Notorious for handing down harsh sentences, including lashings, executions, and lengthy prison terms, Salavati refuses to open the trial to the public preferring to operate in the shadows without scrutiny.
“If Iran had a case against Jason Rezaian, it would try him in public,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter. “It doesn’t and won’t.”
On December 7, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement calling for the Iranian government to drop all charges against Rezaian and to release him immediately. Kerry also called for the release of two other Americans, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini. Hekmati was convicted of espionage in 2012, while Abedini was convicted in 2013 of compromising national security by establishing churches in Iran. Kerry also requested the Iranian government’s cooperation in locating former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was taken hostage in 2007 while covertly working for the CIA in Iran.
On Monday, the CPJ sent a letter urging the head of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, to intervene in the case of the jailed Washington Post reporter. Thirty-four members of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ board of directors, including CPJ Chairman Sandra Rowe, CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, and HuffPost editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington, signed the letter requesting the immediate release of Rezaian.
“Never before has an international journalist been held for so long in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Our colleague has been denied any real opportunity to defend himself against the charges,” wrote the CPJ’s board of directors. “We urge you to ensure that this case is resolved immediately and that Jason returns home to his family.”
Rezaian’s trial remains ongoing. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.