Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter imprisoned in Iran for almost nine months on suspicion of espionage, is accused of passing on sensitive economic and industrial information about Iran, the Fars news agency said Sunday.
Fars, a semiofficial outlet known for its ties to hard-liners in Iran, said Rezaian faces “security” charges in the Revolutionary Court involving allegations of espionage and acting against the national security. It said no trial date has been set.
Fars reported that prosecutors allege Rezaian, who is The Post’s Tehran bureau chief and holds dual citizenship in the United States and Iran, gave economic and industrial information on Iran to Americans who were not named by the agency. It was unclear how Fars had obtained its information on the case against Rezaian, who was arrested July 22 and until recently had no access to a lawyer.
“Selling Iran’s economic and industrial information at a time of sanctions is exactly like selling food to the enemy at a time of war,” Fars reported, referring to the international sanctions related to suspicions that Iran aspires to use nuclear fuel not only for energy and medical testing but also to build nuclear weapons.
Martin Baron, The Post’s executive editor, called the espionage allegation “absurd.”
“It has been nearly nine months since Jason was arrested,” he said. “Now comes word via an Iranian news agency that Jason will face espionage charges. Any charges of that sort would be absurd, the product of fertile and twisted imaginations. We are left to repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Jason and, in the meantime, we are counting on his lawyer to mount a vigorous defense.”
Rezaian’s recently appointed lawyer, Leila Ahsan, told the Associated Press in Tehran that she could not comment on the charges her client faces. She said that she was recently able to visit Rezaian in the notorious Evin Prison.
“He appeared to be in good health and spirits,” she told the AP. “I can see him anytime. Jason asked me to provide a strong defense. I’m in constant touch with his wife and family. I’ve requested that the court hold the trial as soon as possible.”
The Fars report is the first confirmation of an espionage case against Rezaian and his wife, Yaganeh Salehi. In February, a member of the Iranian parliament who is an outspoken critic of President Hassan Rouhani, a centrist, told Fars that Rezaian had “penetrated” the president’s office, and he made an apparent reference to Rouhani’s nephew, who runs his uncle’s media office.
Sunday’s Fars account went on at length about what it characterized as Rezaian’s personal and professional friendships with six Iranian journalists and human rights activists who are living in exile, most in the United States. It made a point of saying that two of them had attended the funeral of Rezaian’s father.
One is Omid Memarian, a New York-based journalist who has written extensively and critically about the government’s case against Rezaian. They have known each other since they were journalists in the San Francisco area.
”We're friends,” Memarian said in a telephone interview. “Yes, I went to his father’s funeral. That’s what normal people do.”
Memarian said he believes that hard-liners who control the Revolutionary Court are trying to besmirch Rouhani through his nephew.
Rezaian’s brother, Ali, said Sunday that Iranians should be “embarrassed” at his brother’s lengthy detention.
“After nine months of illegal detention, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency has written a lengthy article about its displeasure at two of the attendees at my father’s funeral in California in 2011 and Jason’s acquaintances in 2006,” he said in a statement.
“If this is truly Iran’s justification for Jason’s nine months of detention, all Iranians regardless of their country of residence or political affiliation should be embarrassed by this continued injustice and join our family, President Obama, the Washington Post, Muhammad Ali, Noam Chomsky and groups such as Reporters Without Borders, [the] Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International and the nearly 400,000 people from 140 countries who have called on Iran to release Jason immediately.”