WITH THE international community preparing to lift most sanctions on Iran, its president, Hassan Rouhani, no doubt will present his nation as ready to take its rightful, respected place in the world when he addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Monday. The world, including the Obama administration, should think twice about that. Any nation that holds innocent journalists captive, in violation of its own laws and of international norms, will be regarded with suspicion, and deservedly so.
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was seized by Iranian security officials 14 months ago. Iran has never made clear why, but officially his detention is based on what the State Department has called “patently absurd” allegations of espionage and aiding a hostile government. Iranian law says no one may be detained for longer than a year without a conviction, unless accused of murder. No conviction has been announced, but Mr. Rezaian remains imprisoned. That is Exhibit One concerning Iran’s trustworthiness as a law-abiding state.
Mr. Rezaian’s trial was conducted in secret, and he’s been allowed little contact with his court-appointed lawyer or with relatives. His trial apparently concluded a month ago. Verdicts are supposed to be rendered within two weeks, but his lawyer has not been informed of one. That is Exhibit Two.
The outrage of Mr. Rezaian’s detention extends beyond the niceties of Iranian law. U.N. officials have said that his treatment conflicts with international norms. “The arrest, detention and secret trial of Mr. Rezaian violate his rights and intimidate all those working in the media in Iran,” David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, said last month. In an Aug. 31 report, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concerns about the level of censorship and number of detained journalists in Iran and drew particular attention to Mr. Rezaian’s case. “It appears that his arrest and prosecution are linked to his profession as a journalist and his legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” the report states.
Any foreign companies contemplating investment in Iran will have to wonder: To what extent can they count on Iranian courts to protect their assets or their employees? Mr. Rezaian, a talented journalist with U.S. and Iranian citizenship, had dedicated his life to improving understanding between the two nations. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called him “a good reporter” and said, more than seven months ago, “I hope he will be cleared in a court of law. . . . I hope once the court process is completed, we will have a clear-cut case or we will have his acquittal.” Instead, we have continuing lawless limbo, with Mr. Rouhani suggesting vaguely that “the American side must take its own steps.”
Eager to complete an agreement on Iranian nuclear capability and win approval for it in Congress, the administration has been reluctant to say much about Iran’s egregious human rights violations at home or support of terrorism abroad. We favor the nuclear deal, but that can’t be the only element in the U.S.-Iranian relationship. President Obama and Congress both should make clear that further improvement in relations, including the foreign investment that Mr. Rouhani craves, is difficult to imagine as long as innocent Americans languish in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.