Jason Rezaian, a reporter for The Washington Post imprisoned in Iran for almost nine months, has had only one brief, cursory visit with his lawyer in advance of his upcoming trial, according to information provided by his family on Tuesday.
Leila Ahsan, the attorney, told his family she and Rezaian met once several weeks ago in the judge’s chambers and were prohibited from discussing his case or the charges he faces, said The Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron, who called the restrictions “Kafkaesque.”
Ahsan was misunderstood when she was quoted by the Associated Press on Sunday saying that she could meet with her client “anytime,” Baron said in a statement. Ahsan’s remark, carried by the AP, was included in a Post article published online Sunday.
Ahsan and her client have a scheduled meeting next week, but it will have a time limit of one hour, Baron said, and that will be the only consultation the court will allow before Rezaian’s trial.
The exact charges that Rezaian faces have not been publicly disclosed by the court. But the semiofficial Fars news agency has reported that Rezaian, The Post’s bureau chief in Tehran, is accused of espionage related to the alleged passing of economic and industrial information to Americans at a time when Iran is staggering after years of international sanctions.
Baron called the allegations “absurd” and denounced what he said is Rezaian’s “unacceptable lack of access to legal counsel.”
Rezaian, 39, has been detained in Tehran’s Evin Prison since last summer. His wife, who also was jailed, has been released on bail. Two other journalists arrested at the same time have been freed.
“The idea that Jason — or anyone — could be allowed only one hour with a lawyer before standing trial on serious charges is simply appalling,” Baron said.
“These kinds of Kafkaesque restrictions reflect the abject unfairness that Iran has shown at every turn in its handling of Jason’s case,” Baron continued. “Jason is an accredited Washington Post journalist who has done nothing wrong, yet since his arrest last July 22 he has been subjected to harsh interrogation, months of solitary confinement, and to poor living conditions that have had a serious impact on his health.”
“His case has been assigned to Judge Abolghasem Salavati, who has been sanctioned by the European Union for human rights violations,” Baron added. “Reports in the semi-official Iranian press have conjured fanciful and implausible allegations about Jason’s activities that are transparently absurd.”
During negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, State Department officials repeatedly have raised the case of Rezaian and two other Americans imprisoned in Iran. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and The Post frequently have called on Iran to release Rezaian, who has had health problems exacerbated by his lengthy confinement.
“We call again on Iran to demonstrate its commitment to fairness, justice and to following its own law,” Baron said. “Any fair review of the case against Jason could only result in his exoneration and his immediate release.”
Ahsan was recently retained by Rezaian’s family after several other lawyers declined to take him as a client in the Revolutionary Court, where security cases are held.
Salavati has earned a reputation as a hard-line judge for his harsh sentencing, including death sentences for about half a dozen protesters in the reform-minded “Green movement” following the disputed 2009 presidential election.
No date has been set for Rezaian’s trial, according to Fars. But his family has learned it may be held as early as next month.