The ordeal started with a crash through the door as Iranian police stormed reporter Jason Rezaian’s house late at night. Within hours, The Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent landed in a small cell where he was kept for weeks in isolation, denied a mattress, medicine or access to a bathroom.
In the months that followed, he was subjected to a catalogue of physical mistreatment and psychological abuse while being refused basic legal rights — an “arbitrary and unlawful” confinement that violates Iran’s own constitution, lawyers for The Post said in papers they released Wednesday.
The news organization provided new details of Rezaian’s treatment as it appealed formally to the United Nations for help in pressuring Iran’s government to release the 39-year-old American citizen, who on Wednesday began a second year of incarceration. A petition filed with the U.N. Human Rights Council decried the handling of Rezaian’s case by an Iranian judiciary system that one company official called “a poster child for bad behavior.”
“Every aspect of his case — his incarceration, his trial, the conditions of his imprisonment — has been a disgraceful violation of human rights and a violation of common decency,” Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said, announcing the action at a news conference at Washington’s National Press Club.
The Post raised the volume in its year-long protest over Rezaian’s imprisonment with its request for an expedited inquiry by the U.N. council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, an independent body that investigates alleged human rights abuses. While company officials had hoped that Rezaian might be freed after last week’s conclusion of nuclear talks with Iran, the nuclear deal “sadly provided no resolution to the case,” Baron said.
Rezaian, a California native and an Iranian immigrant’s son with dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, is being held in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. His year-long incarceration is the longest for any Western journalist held by the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution.
The filing of the 40-page U.N. petition comes in a week when Iranian officials suggested that the trial phase of his incarceration was nearing an end. On Wednesday, a Iranian deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, acknowledged discussing Rezaian’s case with U.S. officials “as a humanitarian issue” on the sidelines of the recent nuclear talks. Araghchi made the comment unprompted at a Tehran news conference, the Associated Press reported.
President Obama on Tuesday repeated a vow to win Rezaian’s release, telling U.S. war veterans in a speech that the United States is “not going to relent until we bring home our Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran.”
U.S. officials are also seeking the release of two other detained Americans — Marine veteran Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini — as well as Iran’s cooperation in investigating the disappearance of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished during a trip to Iran in 2007.
The Post’s U.N. petition paints a portrait of sustained mistreatment of its Tehran correspondent, including months of solitary confinement, grueling interrogations and inadequate medical treatment for Rezaian’s deteriorating health.
His Iranian captors also committed gross violations of international norms by refusing to publicly explain the reasons for Rezaian’s arrest or to allow him to review any evidence to support vague accusations of espionage against him, company officials said in papers filed Tuesday in New York.
“These human rights violations are compounded by the fact that Rezaian’s detention appears to have been used as leverage by a certain faction of the Iranian Government in the long-running nuclear negotiations with the United States and other nations — a diplomatic dialogue wholly unrelated to Rezaian, and over which he has no control,” the petition states.
Company officials said they hope an official finding by the U.N. council could amplify the pressure on Iran, even as The Post, family members and others pursue Rezaian’s release through other channels.
“We believe the time has come to bring a very public, adversarial case against Iran,” said Jay Kennedy, a Washington Post vice president and general counsel. “Given the complete lack of evidence that Jason committed any crime, we expect the Working Group to conclude, as we have, that the government of Iran arrested and detained Jason for his work as a journalist and will find that detention unlawful.”
Rezaian was arrested along with his wife, Iranian journalist Yeganeh Salehi, at the couple’s home in Tehran on July 22, 2014.
At the time of his arrest, Rezaian had been working for two years as The Post’s Tehran correspondent and had been granted press credentials by the Iranian government.
Although the Iranian Revolutionary Court, which is overseeing the case, has made no public pronouncement about the charges against Rezaian, Iranian news media have reported that the correspondent is being tried for espionage and engaging in “propaganda against the establishment” — accusations that Post officials have rejected as patently false.
The papers filed by The Post on Tuesday indicated that Iranian authorities seized computers, notes, passports, books and other personal effects when they entered the couple’s home. Rezaian’s wife was later released on bail, as were two friends who were arrested the same evening.
Rezaian eventually was taken to Evin Prison, a facility human rights groups have long associated with torture and abuse. There, he was kept in solitary confinement and “relentlessly interrogated” while being deprived of sleep and essential medical care, The Post’s petition asserts.
“He has been humiliated, mistreated, and deprived of even the most basic facilities; at various points in his detention, he has even been denied access to a bathroom,” the document states.
Iranian officials refused for weeks to allow Rezaian to have contact with outsiders, including his wife, other family members or Swiss diplomatic officials who represent U.S. consular interests in Iran. Long deprived of medicine for high blood pressure and other ailments, Rezaian began to suffer from chronic infections and lost nearly 50 pounds, The Post said, citing accounts from family members who were eventually permitted brief visits with him.
“Rezaian’s psychological well-being and physical health have severely declined,” the petition states, “and his condition worsens with each day in confinement.”
The news organization further accuses Iran of violating international treaties and its own constitution with an arrest and detention that were an “arbitrary deprivation of liberty.” As a signatory to the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran pledged to guarantee basic rights to those accused of criminal offenses, including the right to be informed of the reasons for an arrest and the right to a fair and speedy trial.
“He has been deprived of due process and denied his rights to counsel of his choosing and to consular visitation,” The Post said in its petition to the Working Group, which investigates allegations of unjust detention. “Nearly five months of detention passed before Rezaian was charged with any crime, and to this day, the Government of Iran has failed to publicly disclose the charges against him.”
Scholars and human rights experts familiar with Iran’s handling of high-profile detentions said last week’s nuclear accord may have helped lay the groundwork for Rezaian’s release. But still uncertain are how quickly he could be set free and whether the journalist’s confinement is related to the nuclear dispute or some still-murkier conflict between Iranian factions.
Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian former journalist who spent 110 days in Evin Prison, said Rezaian’s arrest was probably an attempt by hard-line opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to embarrass the moderate leader just as he sought rapprochement with the West. Now that the talks have ended, Rezaian could be freed, though perhaps not so quickly, she said.
“Letting Jason go immediately would be seen as a sign of weakness, especially among the opponents of the nuclear deal in Iran,” said Esfandiari, director emerita of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Other Iran experts said exerting more international pressure on Iran could finally persuade Iran’s leaders to relent, though it still might take time to coax a decision from Iran’s famously opaque legal system.
“You have a judicial process that is anything but fair or independent,” said Faraz Sanei, a researcher and Middle East expert with Human Rights Watch. “That — and not the official government line touting Iran’s supposedly fair and impartial administration of justice — is the ugly reality of the process Jason and many others have been subjected to.”