A Washington Post reporter imprisoned in Iran has been granted access to an attorney — but not the one of his choosing.
Jason Rezaian, who has been the paper’s Tehran correspondent since 2012 and holds U.S. and Iranian citizenship, has spent 222 days in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Family members say that their preferred attorney was blocked by the country’s Revolutionary Court, which last week had given them a deadline of March 2 to present one that was “acceptable.”
“For nearly a month our family’s chosen attorney Masoud Shafii has worked tirelessly under pressure from the judiciary to be assigned as Jason’s attorney,” the family said in a statement. “It is clear that despite his best efforts he will not be permitted to represent Jason.”
Shafii, who specializes in dealing with U.S.-related legal problems, represented three American hikers who were captured in Iran in 2009 and held at Evin for 781 days. In his stead, the family hired Leila Ahsan, who also represents Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian journalist who was captured and released on bail in October.
The Iranian government has not publicly identified the nature of the charges against Rezaian, 38, other than to accuse him in a statement of participating in activities outside the scope of journalism.
Although a trial date has not been scheduled, Rezaian’s case has been assigned to Abolghassem Salavati, a hard-line judge who heads a branch of the court that specializes in sensitive cases. Salavati is known for delivering harsh sentences, including lashings and execution, and has been sanctioned by the European Union since 2011.
Under Iranian law, each defendant is allowed to have three attorneys. The Rezaian family said they hope to include Shafii in the defense team led by Ahsan. “We are hopeful that her knowledge of the case and access to the files will ensure that there are no further unwarranted delays in the process,” the family said.
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post, expressed anger over Rezaian’s treatment.
“At every turn, Iran’s handling of Jason’s case has served to reinforce an impression of state-
sponsored injustice, as demonstrated by seven months of harsh incarceration without counsel or consular access,” Baron said in a statement. “It is imperative that a defense team now being led by Leila Ahsan be augmented and be granted full, immediate access to Jason and his case file in order to begin the task of winning his freedom against charges that have not yet been publicly disclosed. That is a daunting task, given that he has been denied access to a lawyer all this time and that the entire process to date has been so opaque and manifestly unfair.”
Although the harsh treatment of journalists eased after the election of President Hassan Rouhani, it has picked up again in recent months, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Rezaian’s detention appears to be the longest of any Western journalist in Iran, which ranked second only to China in the CPJ census of imprisoned journalists in 2014.
Political detainees are often denied adequate medical care. Rezaian has lost 20 percent of his body weight in prison, according to his brother Ali Rezaian, and visits with his wife have been “severely curtailed” since early December. Now, they must be separated by glass and can speak only in Farsi on a monitored phone.
“Psychologically his depression is worsening,” Ali Rezaian, Jason’s brother, said by e-mail. “He’s well aware of the many illegal tactics that the Iranian government has used against him.”