An arch-conservative member of the Iranian parliament and outspoken critic of the country’s centrist president has claimed that there is an “espionage case” against imprisoned Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and his wife.
In remarks published Saturday by the Fars News Agency, Hamid Rasaei said the reporter and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, have been accused of working with someone in the office of President Hassan Rouhani. He said that they had masqueraded as journalists while “penetrating into the most sensitive sections at the president’s office.”
“Who — through his correspondence — facilitated Jason Rezaian in carrying out his espionage-related activities by allowing him to circumvent important security checks?” Rasaei said.
Rezaian’s relatives and senior editors at The Post have said the journalist, who has been detained in Tehran’s Evin Prison since he was arrested July 22, was acting only as a reporter when he wrote stories that frequently focused on the lives of ordinary Iranians.
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post, ripped the latest allegations as a “farce and a sham.”
“We expected to hear something preposterous as the case went to trial, and our expectations were exceeded,” Baron said in a statement. “Seven months have passed without Iranian legal authorities publicly outlining the allegations against Jason. Now we have someone outside the judiciary system making outlandish allegations that come with no evidence. This isn’t justice. This is a tragic farce and a sham.”
A State Department official said late Saturday that “we are aware of Mr. Rasaei’s comments regarding the allegations against Mr. Jason Rezaian. Jason has been unjustly detained without charges in Iran for over 200 days and should be immediately released.”
There has been a recent groundswell of support for Rezaian’s release through an online petition. On Thursday, Ali Rezaian said prison authorities have allowed his brother to get outside medical treatment for infections and receive care packages in recent weeks.
The charges against The Post bureau chief, who holds dual American-Iranian citizenship, have never been fully explained, and Rasaei’s remarks offer the clearest indication yet of the severity of the allegations that the 38-year-old reporter is facing, along with his wife, who has been released on bail.
Rasaei is a mid-level cleric but is considered a hard-line critic of Rouhani and his administration. He is among the parliamentarians who have raised objections to Rouhani’s efforts to ease or end international sanctions by negotiating limits on Iran’s nuclear program, a process that involves entering talks with the United States.
Late last year, Rasaei told the Iranian news agency IRNA that the drop in the international price of oil, which pays for the bulk of Iran’s budget, is another form of sanctions intended to pressure Iran into concessions in the nuclear talks. He called for Iranians to support a “resistance economy” and not give in to pressure.
Rouhani’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has been representing Iran in the nuclear negotiations with State Department officials, who publicly and privately have asked Iran to free Rezaian and other Americans held in Iranian prisons. Zarif has said he has worked to make Rezaian’s confinement a little less onerous by arranging for him to be visited late last year by his mother and mother-in-law. Zarif said recently that he hopes the issue will be resolved soon.
But to a large degree, Rezaian’s fate is in the hands of the hard-liners. His case has been assigned to a branch of the Revolutionary Court run by a conservative judge known for harsh sentences. Court officials have said Rezaian should come to trial “soon,” but a date is not known to have been set.