Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian’s Kafkaesque legal horror took its latest outrage-filled turn early Monday over word that he’s been convicted of espionage by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
The verdict is maddeningly late, not unexpected and still does not revolve the more than year-old matter. There is a process of appeal but he can also receive a 10 to 20-year sentence for charges the paper, the Obama administration and press groups have called a sham.
It may now also set up some sort of prisoner swap between Iran and the U.S., suggests at least one expert.
In a TV broadcast late on Sunday, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, judiciary spokesman, said: “He has been convicted, but I don’t have the verdict’s details,” according to Al Jazeera.
Rezaian has been held for more than a year. His trial was held in secret and, despite the claim of an imminent verdict, one never came. All those elements played into the frustration and outrage reflected by Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron.
“The guilty verdict announced by Iran in the trial of The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian represents an outrageous injustice,” he said early Monday.
“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. For now, no sentence has been announced.”
Baron said, “We are working with Jason’s family and Iranian counsel to pursue an immediate appeal, and we expect Jason’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan, also to petition for Jason to be released on bail pending a final resolution of the case.”
Earlier Sunday, a semi-official Iranian news agency had quoted a judiciary spokesman as indicating there’s been a verdict. It’s the same spokesman who said a verdict was imminent many weeks ago.
Asked then by Poynter about the significance of the latest mini-development, Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American author, journalist and NBC News contributor, said, “Hard to say. Seems they want to drag this out, for some reason.”
Various theories about how the mess might be resolved have come and gone. They have included the belief that there would be a conclusion along with the international nuclear talks with Iran. That didn’t happen. It was the same with the recent annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly.
It’s seemingly clear that at times complex and confusing internal Iranian government politics may be at play. There is also the current belief, bolstered by its president’s own comments, that Iran will insist on some prisoner swap with the U.S.
And whereas Baron had earlier Sunday called the initial statement “vague and puzzling,” there was far less ambiguity early Monday with the word of a conviction.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Douglas Jehl, the newspaper’s foreign editor, said he thought the court’s decision was only “the first act.”
“It’s increasingly clear that the final decision about how Jason’s case will be handled will be made by political authorities – not by judicial ones,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We’ve already heard from President Rouhani and others that Iran is willing to move Jason’s case towards conclusion, if the United States will do something in return.”
After world of the verdict, Majd said, “I don’t think there could have been any other result, not after a year and especially after the possibility of a prisoner exchange was raised.”
“You can’t, after all, exchange an innocent person for a prisoner—only a hostage—and Iran would not want to suggest it is holding an American hostage. But I also don’t think a guilty verdict means he has to serve whatever sentence is handed down. I’m assuming efforts will be underway on both sides—beyond the pro forma appeal by his lawyer—to figure out a way to resolve his situation.”
If Jehl and Majd suspicions are correct, a next act is to come.