Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian is scheduled to go on trial in Iran next week on “espionage” and other charges, his attorney said Tuesday, the latest step in a case that has drawn strong objections from President Obama and other U.S. leaders.
Iran’s judiciary has set a May 26 trial date for Rezaian, The Post’s bureau chief in Tehran, who was imprisoned nearly 10 months ago. His detention has been sharply criticized by media watchdog groups and was raised by Secretary of State John F. Kerry at nuclear talks with Iranian diplomats.
The Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron, urged the court to open the trial to public scrutiny and denounced the “contemptible prosecution” of Rezaian. Since his arrest on July 22, 2014, at his home in Tehran, Rezaian has been allowed only a single meeting with his attorney — held in the presence of official interpreters.
Iranian state TV, which also reported the trial date, did not specify whether the proceedings in a Revolutionary Court against Rezaian and two others — including his journalist wife — would be open to the public.
The court, which hears cases involving state security, normally conducts its hearings in closed session. No charges against Rezaian were disclosed until April.
The Associated Press, citing his attorney, Leila Ahsan, said the trial will include Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, and a freelance photographer who worked for foreign media. The photographer’s name has not been made public.
“The serious criminal charges that Jason now faces in Iran’s Revolutionary Court are not supported by a single fact,” Baron said in a statement.
“The proceedings against him have been anything but fair and open — if they had been, Jason would never have been subjected to outrageous prison conditions, obstacles to selecting a lawyer, limited time to prepare a defense, and an inadequate window on the case that Iran plans to bring against him,” Baron added. “The absence of evidence against him should have led to dismissal of the case long ago.”
Iranian officials have not publicly revealed the charges against Rezaian, 39, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. But Ahsan said last month that her client is accused of espionage and three other offenses against the state. She said authorities allege that the charges stem from inquiries and contacts he made as a journalist, but officials have given few details.
Rezaian’s brother, Ali, said their mother, Mary, was allowed a meeting with him last week in Tehran’s Evin Prison but was denied a visit Tuesday despite pledges from the presiding judge that she could see her son on a “regular basis.” The reason for the refusal was not clear.
At least two interrogators monitored the Thursday meeting, Ali Rezaian said. Jason exhibited no serious health issues but remains troubled by chronic problems stemming from high blood pressure, his brother said. Although no longer in solitary confinement, Jason has contact with only one other inmate and his jailers, Ali added.
Their mother has sought permission to attend the trial, and the family has appealed for courtroom access for an observer from the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran. “Even if the trial is closed, we want someone there watching on our behalf,” Ali said.
Kerry has repeatedly raised the issue of Rezaian and other imprisoned Americans during months of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has deflected questions about Rezaian, saying it is a judicial matter.
A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under agency protocol, urged Iran to “dismiss any and all charges” against Rezaian and allow openness in the proceedings.
“We call on Iran to respect its own laws and abide by international standards of due process so that Jason can have a chance to refute any and all of the charges,” the official said.
Rezaian, Salehi and two photojournalists were detained at the same time in July. Salehi was later released on bail, but Rezaian’s multiple requests for bail have been denied. The photojournalists also were later freed.
“Against this backdrop of injustice, Iran must now belatedly demonstrate that it can act with openness and fairness,” Baron said in his statement. “The world will be watching, and we call on Iran to make these proceedings public and transparent.”
Baron said that The Post has been seeking visas so a senior editor can attend the trial but that the requests “have gone unanswered.”
“Any just proceeding would quickly acquit Jason and his wife Yeganeh Salehi of all allegations and grant them their freedom,” he said.
Press freedom groups have denounced Iranian authorities for Rezaian’s detention. Last month, Reporters Without Borders called his arrest “completely illegal.”
The judge assigned to the case, Abolghassem Salavati, has presided over several high-profile prosecutions, including anti-state charges against protesters arrested after widespread demonstrations in the wake of a disputed 2009 presidential election.
Carol Morello in Seattle contributed to this report.