An Iranian judiciary spokesman said Sunday that a verdict has been reached in the espionage case of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, though he offered no details. It was uncertain what the verdict is and whether there is a sentence.
“The ruling on this case has been issued,” Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said in his weekly televised news conference with Iranian journalists. “There is still the possibility of this ruling being appealed, and it is not final.”
Rezaian, The Post’s Tehran correspondent, has become a symbol of the lack of press freedom in Iran, and the capriciousness of its government, since he was arrested July 22, 2014. His closed-door trial on espionage and related charges ended two months ago, and the delay in a verdict has never been explained.
The Post has vehemently disputed the allegation that Rezaian was a spy. Executive Editor Martin Baron has said that Rezaian was acting solely as a journalist, and he has called the trial a “sham” and “a sick brew of farce and tragedy.”
It is not known when the verdict was reached or when a possible sentence will be announced. Rezaian has 20 days to appeal any ruling. Under the Iranian legal system, the prosecutor also has the right to appeal if there is an acquittal, an outcome that is considered unlikely.
By mentioning that the verdict is not final, Ejei, a former prosecutor general, seemed to suggest that the Iranian government considers Rezaian a candidate for a prisoner swap.
Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he would work for the release of three Iranian Americans detained in Iran, including Rezaian, if the United States would free Iranians held in U.S. prisons for violating sanctions against their country. Iranian officials have said that 19 Iranians fall into this category, but neither Iran nor the Justice Department has named the individuals who might be on Tehran’s list.
Given the opacity of the Iranian judicial system, the initial reactions to Sunday’s terse statement announcing a verdict were cautious.
“There was no notice of the announcement, and we have no additional details on the verdict,” Rezaian’s brother, Ali, said after speaking to the defense attorney. He said they had no prior knowledge of a verdict.
In a written statement, Ali Rezaian later said the announcement was “just another sad chapter” in his brother’s 14-month imprisonment.
“It follows an unconscionable pattern by Iranian authorities of silence, obfuscation, delay and a total lack of adherence to international law, as well as Iranian law,” he said. “The Iranian government has never provided proof of the trumped-up espionage and other charges against Jason, so today’s vague statement on a purported verdict, while certainly disappointing to our family, is not surprising.”
Ali Rezaian also appealed to the government to release his brother.
“Jason was simply a journalist doing his job and following all the rules when he was wrongly arrested and imprisoned in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison,” he said. “He is an innocent man that has been kept under harsh conditions to the detriment of his health and well-being for nearly 450 days. There is worldwide condemnation for the Iranian government’s unlawful detention of Jason and calls from across the globe for his immediate release. We remain hopeful that Jason will soon be released and reunited with this family.”
The State Department was equally mystified about news of the verdict.
“We’ve seen the news reports concerning a verdict in the case of U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian but have not yet seen any official confirmation or details of a specific verdict from Iranian authorities,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the department. “We’re monitoring the situation closely, and we continue to call for all charges against Jason to be dropped and for him to be immediately released.”
Baron said The Post knew little more than the sparse description in the official statement.
“We are aware of today’s televised announcement by the Iranian government that a ruling has been issued in the case of The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian but that the ruling is ‘not final’ and could be appealed,” he said in a statement. “We have no further information at this time, and it is not clear whether this ruling includes a verdict or a sentence — or even whether its contents have been communicated to Jason or his lawyer.
“This vague and puzzling statement by the government of Iran only adds to the injustice that has surrounded Jason’s case since his arrest 15 months ago. Jason is a victim — arrested without cause, held for months in isolation, without access to a lawyer, subjected to physical mistreatment and psychological abuse. The only thing that has ever been clear about this case is Jason’s innocence. If indeed a ruling has been issued and is now being reviewed, this puts the onus on Iran’s senior leaders to demonstrate the fairness and justice that could only lead to Jason’s exoneration and release.’’
Rezaian has been held in prison longer than any journalist in Iran and, since last week, longer than the U.S. Embassy hostages held from November 1979 to January 1981. Today is his 447th day in custody . He holds dual citizenship, a status that Iran does not recognize. Although he was born and raised in California to a father who immigrated from Iran, the Tehran government has treated him as a full Iranian citizen.
The case against him was apparently built on what U.S. courts would consider circumstantial evidence. Iranian officials cited an online job application he sent to the White House and a visit to the U.S. Consulate in Dubai, where he was seeking a visa for his Iranian wife.
The State Department has repeatedly called for Iran to release Rezaian as well as two other Iranian Americans being held in Iranian prisons on charges that the U.S. government considers spurious.
During the lengthy negotiations for a nuclear agreement with Iran that is about to be adopted, negotiators often raised the detainees’ cases in sideline discussions. Many U.S. politicians have questioned why Washington did not demand the release of the American detainees in exchange for signing off on the nuclear deal. The State Department has said that it did not want their imprisonment to be used to extract concessions or to be a casualty if the talks failed.