May 25, 2015

The Washington Post said it was “shameful” that the trial of its Tehran-based correspondent Jason Rezaian would be closed even to members of his family.

“The shameful acts of injustice continue without end in the treatment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian,” said Post Executive Editor Martin Baron in a statement about a trial set to begin Tuesday.

“Now we learn his trial will be closed to the world. And so it will be closed to the scrutiny it fully deserves”

Baron also noted that his reporter was placed in isolation, denied medical care for months, saw his case “assigned to a judge internationally notorious for human rights violations” and was given just 90 minutes for one meeting with a court-approved attorney.

In addition, even on the eve of trial, no formal set of charges and evidence had been presented to him. The court-approved lawyer indicated that the charges involve alleged espionage.

Rezaian has been stuck in prison for 10 months on those allegations. The Obama administration has also pilloried the allegations that now prompt a trial to be held in a Revolutionary Court amid apparently tricky internal Iranian politics, which include frictions between two separate intelligence agencies and also among other parts of the government and political factions.

Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, said Monday that it’s impossible to figure how the trial will now play out, be it as it pertains either to Rezaian or even the larger bilateral situation between the United States and Iran.

That situation obviously includes ongoing negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program. There is a belief among some Iranian observers that it’s possibly a positive thing that the Iranians might want to resolve the Rezaian matter before the conclusion of the talks; perhaps finding a way to ultimately release him and not make his situation an impediment any longer.

But Maloney said an overall ambiguity is underscored by the simple reality that the Iranian judiciary is inherently arbitrary.

“I tend not to be persuaded by the conventional wisdom that Rezaian’s arrest was a gambit to weaken [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani, or undermine the nuclear negotiations, or somehow slow the pace of moderation in Iran.”

“All these things are certainly possible, but there is no demonstrable proof that this is a tactic in some kind of high-level power struggle,” she said. “An equally persuasive explanation is that many elements of the Iranian system are deeply committed to its precepts of anti-Americanism and restrictions on basic freedoms, and even by engaging in relatively non-confrontational reporting, Jason ran afoul of the underlying paranoia and antagonism toward a free press that characterizes much of the ruling system irrespective of factional identification.”

Maloney said, “The simple reality is that they arrested him because they can, and they have held him for the same reason. It happens every day to Iranians, and of course that is precisely what Jason is considered under Iranian law.”

She elaborated, “There is little that the U.S. government can do to effect the release of citizens held in Iran, but Jason has two things going for him that most other political prisoners in Iran do not – the fact that he is both an American and a journalist means his case has received disproportionate attention in the West, far more than that of other dual nationals, several of whom have now been held far longer than Jason.”

And, she said, “From my limited experience in dealing with him directly, Jason approaches his work with true professionalism, and as a Washington Post subscriber, I enjoyed and directly benefitted from his keen eye for Iranian politics as well as ordinary life within Iran. I hope that his trial serves as some kind of trigger for his release, as is sometimes the case.”

She added, “I simply don’t know if that is likely or unlikely, and I’d be skeptical of anyone without a direct line to the Iranian judiciary who claims to know.”

Rezaian is California-born and the son of an Iranian father. That meant he had to enter the country on an Iranian passport and, as far as the government is concerned, he is an Iranian.

That places him in more complicated situation than, for example, an American who would have entered on a U.S. passport and Iranian visa.

That means there are elements in the Iranian regime that reflexively believe that anybody with such dual citizenship may be aiding an enemy of the regime.

That may have played a big role in what the Post, the White House and others believe are totally trumped up charges.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

More News

Back to News