Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian went on trial Tuesday on espionage and other charges in a closed Tehran courtroom more than 10 months after he was imprisoned, but the proceedings were adjourned without any indication of when they would resume.
The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Abolghassem Salavati, a judge known for draconian sentences, read the four-count indictment in a two-hour session in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court.
The semiofficial Mehr News Agency said Rezaian roundly denied having done anything outside the normal activities of a news reporter.
“I am a journalist, and all of my activities have been conducted as a journalist, and all were legal,” Mehr quoted him as saying when the judge asked about his contacts with U.S. Consulate officials in Dubai, where Rezaian’s family says he was seeking a visa for his Iranian-born wife. It could not be determined from the Mehr account whether the news agency, which is affiliated with the government, had a reporter in the courtroom.
Rezaian’s attorney, Leila Ahsan, told the family that the trial would continue “at a later session,” according to Rezaian’s brother, Ali Rezaian. It was not clear whether another court date has been set or whether Ahsan was not permitted to say more. Under Iranian law, it is illegal to reveal details about a closed-door hearing.
The defendant’s mother, Mary Rezaian, and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a reporter for the National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, were nearby during the proceedings. Rezaian may not have even been aware of their proximity. His mother traveled to Tehran two weeks ago hoping to attend his trial, but her request was denied.
The women went to the courthouse Tuesday. However, they were not allowed access to the floor where the proceedings were held, Ali Rezaian said. After they waited for about five hours, he said, a clerk informed them that the proceedings had ended.
They did not get to see Jason Rezaian, even from afar. He apparently entered and exited the courthouse through a back door, his brother said, based on Iranian news accounts and the few details Ahsan could share.
“We have absolutely no idea what happened in court, other than the fact the indictment against Jason was read,” Ali Rezaian said.
The closed-door nature of the trial has been condemned by journalism organizations, The Washington Post and the State Department.
“It certainly adds to concerns, and it fits, unfortunately, into a pattern of a complete lack of transparency and lack of due process that we’ve seen since Jason was detained,” said Jeff Rathke, deputy spokesman for the State Department. “While we call for it to be open, we also maintain he never should have been held and tried in the first place.”
Rathke said the State Department is “monitoring” the progress of Rezaian’s trial, a task he acknowledged is difficult because no outsiders are allowed in the courtroom.He called for “all of the absurd charges to be dropped and for Jason Rezaian to be released immediately.”
Rezaian, 39, is The Post’s Tehran bureau chief. He was arrested July 22, along with his wife and two photojournalists. All but Rezaian have been released on bail.
Rezaian was born and raised in California, but he holds Iranian as well as U.S. citizenship. The government in Tehran does not recognize dual nationality and contends that Washington has no legal standing to press for his release.
Rezaian has been accused of espionage and propaganda against Iran. He faces four charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The Post has vigorously protested his detention.
During months of nuclear negotiations with Iran, the State Department has repeatedly raised the cases of Rezaian and two Americans already convicted in Iran: former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and pastor Saeed Abedini, as well as a missing former FBI agent, Robert Levinson. The four Americans have been mentioned on the sidelines of the talks, however, and it does not appear that their release would be a condition for a nuclear deal with Iran.