IRANIAN FOREIGN Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, like several other senior officials in his country, has made it clear that he is uncomfortable with the detention of The Post’s correspondent in Iran, Jason Rezaian, who as of Monday had been unjustly held for 202 days. Asked Sunday about the case during a conference in Munich, Mr. Zarif said: “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.”
Those words might offer grounds for optimism that Iran will soon cease its outrageous mistreatment of Mr. Rezaian, a 38-year-old California native who, since being arrested with his wife July 22, has not been informed of the charges against him or been allowed to speak with a lawyer. Yet Mr. Zarif’s words are contradicted — as they have been in the past — by the actual developments in Mr. Rezaian’s case. Late last month, a human rights group reported that his trial had been referred to the court of a notorious Revolutionary Court judge known for imposing harsh sentences in political cases.
As Mr. Rezaian’s family noted in a statement, Judge Abolghassem Salavati was sanctioned in 2011 by the European Union for “gross human rights violations.” In 2009, he sentenced two American hikers, arrested near Iran’s border with Iraq, to eight years in prison on groundless espionage charges. To suggest, as Mr. Zarif did, that Mr. Rezaian will be treated fairly in such a court strains credulity; it raises the question of whether the foreign minister was seeking to deflect an embarrassing inquiry with an empty expression of hope.
Some analysts of Iran have speculated that the persecution of Mr. Rezaian is an attempt by “hard-liners” and their allies in the judiciary to undermine the “moderate” government of President Hassan Rouhani and the nuclear negotiations being conducted by Mr. Zarif. If that is true, the case raises a question about the talks: If Mr. Zarif is not able to obtain justice for an innocent journalist he has called “a good reporter,” can he be expected to obtain necessary concessions on a nuclear program that has been the focal point of Iran’s national security apparatus for more than a decade?
Whether there is a power struggle in Tehran or not, the Rezaian case illustrates a profound imbalance in the nuclear negotiation. While an American citizen is openly wielded as a human pawn, at enormous cost to his well-being and that of his family, the Obama administration fastidiously refrains from any action it believes might offend Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — from seeking the downfall of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to tolerating a vote in Congress on sanctions that would be imposed in the event the talks failed.
Mr. Zarif asserted that he had “tried my best to help [Mr. Rezaian] in a humanitarian way, providing for his mother’s visit.” But such palliatives are not a substitute for justice. It’s time for him and Mr. Rouhani to use their influence to free Mr. Rezaian — and demonstrate that the Iranian government can deliver on its words.
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