Iran: Washington Post journalist on trial on ludicrous charges must be freed now
The Iranian authorities must end the farcical waiting game for the verdict in the case of Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian, and release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, Amnesty International said today.
The call comes after a spokesperson for Iran's Judiciary said the charges against the Washington Post journalist - including espionage and “spreading propaganda against the system” – are not related to journalism. United Nations experts are among others around the world who have called on the Iranian authorities to release him.
“After subjecting Jason Rezaian to nearly one year in pre-trial detention - over six of them in solitary confinement with no access to a lawyer - it is a further affront to justice to keep him behind bars for even one more day. He had been working legally and openly as a journalist in Iran and his prosecution is clearly motivated by an attempt to crush independent reporting in the country,” said Said Boumedouha, Acting Program Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
“Unfortunately, Iran has an appalling track record of jailing reporters. Jason Rezaian’s arrest and detention is the latest in a long line of attacks by the Iranian authorities against journalists who are peacefully and legitimately carrying out their work.”
Amnesty International believes the trial, which began on 26 May and was held in four closed-door sessions at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, was seriously flawed.
Speaking to reporters after the final trial session on 10 August, Jason Rezaian’s lawyer Leila Ahsan said that no evidence had been presented to the court to substantiate any of the charges put forward by the prosecution. She said she had not been able to present her defence fully after the prosecution’s statement due to time constraints, and was forced to submit a written response instead.
According to the Washington Post, one piece of “evidence” put forward by the prosecution was an online job application for a position in President Obama’s administration in the USA that Jason Rezaian unsuccessfully submitted in 2008. Other “evidence” against him, according to Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency, included him visiting the US Consulate in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), which Jason Rezaian said was in relation to a visa application for his Iranian wife.
At the first trial session, when the judge asked him about his relationship with the US Consulate in the UAE, Rezaian replied “I am just a journalist, and all of my activities have been conducted as a journalist, and all have been legal.”
Jason Rezaian was arrested on 22 July 2014, a day after Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance renewed his press credentials.
“Two years into President Rouhani’s rule, the human rights situation in Iran is grim and the harassment, intimidation, and imprisonment of journalists remains unrelenting,” Said Boumedouha said.
Jason Rezaian only gained access to a lawyer after nine months in jail but was able to receive visits from his family. His wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who writes for the UAE state-owned newspaper The National was arrested at the same time and both have had their passports confiscated. Their family did not learn of their whereabouts for some time after their arrest. Yeganeh Salehi was released on bail in October 2014. A photographer and her husband were also arrested with the Rezaians and were released the next month.
The United States government has repeatedly called on the Iranian authorities to release Jason Rezaian, most recently on the sidelines of the recent nuclear negotiations, which ended in a deal with the US last month.
Journalists in Iran continue to face harassment, intimidation, arrest and imprisonment for their legitimate journalistic activities. Other media workers, such as film producers, have also faced trial on vaguely worded national security charges or judicial bans preventing them from carrying out their work.
Iran came 173rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index produced by the NGO, Reporters Without Borders. A number of journalists remain in prison in Iran, including Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand (Kaboudvand), a Kurdish journalist and prisoner of conscience who is currently serving an 11-year prison term for his peaceful journalistic activities.
Amnesty International has documented for years how journalists and media workers in Iran are systematically targeted and arrested on vaguely worded charges on account of their peaceful journalistic activities.
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2014 Briefing Iran: Jailed For Being A Journalist