IRAN: Of Politics and Prison

NICK ARMER WRITES – Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post correspondent, was charged with serious crimes by Iranian authorities on April 20 after being detained and held by the government for over nine months.

The White House and the Washington Post have denounced the charges against Rezaian, who is an American citizen of Iranian descent. The announcement has added dangerous tension to a delicate period, as both countries are on the verge of reaching an agreement over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

Rezaian, a 39 year old Californian, had previously worked in Tehran for years as a freelance journalist, but was promoted to the position of Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post in 2012.  He was charged with four serious crimes including espionage and “sending a letter to President Obama.” It is unclear how his letter to President Obama was deemed illegal.

Leilah Ahsan, Mr. Rezaian’s lawyer, said “Jason is a journalist, and it is in the nature of his profession to gain access to information and publish. My client, however, has never had any direct or indirect access to classified information to share with anyone.”

The Vatan-e Emrouz newspaper, a Persian-language publication owned by conservative parties within Iran, stated that Mr. Rezaian had collaborated with the National Iranian American Council (NAIC), a Washington-based advocacy group, on a story. Though the group is viewed as supportive of Iran by some American analysts, Iranian hard-liners claim the group is connected to former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who favors business and political ties with the West.

Ms. Ahsan responded to these reports with a public statement: “The whole of the investigation into my client has been kept secret so far, and my clients and I have refrained from making them public. It is a shame that some domestic media have resorted to the widespread publication of untrue and false accounts without considering the secret nature of the case – their action is both against the law and moral and Islamic standards.”

Trita Parsi, the President of the NAIC, claimed in a telephone interview that these charges are part of a desperate ploy by political extremists in Iran to undermine the ongoing negotiations with the United States over their nuclear program.

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