Washington Post reporter goes on trial behind closed doors in Tehran

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian’s trial begins on espionage charges behind closed doors in Tehran, 10 months after he was arrested at his home and imprisoned.

WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES (MAY 26, 2015) (REUTERS) – Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian went on trial on espionage charges behind closed doors in Tehran on Tuesday (May 26), 10 months after he was arrested at his home and imprisoned, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

His wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and a woman described as a photojournalist also went on trial, the official IRNA news agency said. Both women were detained with him in July but later released.

The three, all American-Iranian, were in court for around two hours before the session was adjourned, IRNA added.

Iranian authorities have not released details of any charges and pressed on with the case in the face of calls from U.S. President Barack Obama, family members and rights groups for Rezaian’s release and more information on the charges.

“There’s a charge of espionage. There’s a charge of collaborating with hostile powers. There’s a charge of propaganda,” Rezaian’s brother, Ali Rezaian, told Reuters in Washington. “And most of the evidence against him appear to based on e-mails.”

The case has put pressure on U.S.-Iranian relations, while Tehran, Washington and five other world powers have been trying to hammer out a deal to end a decade-old standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme.

“We have reached out to a variety of folks within the Iranian government and worked with anyone who wants to work with us and talk with us to plead the case to say this is important. It’s not helpful for Iran,” said Ali Rezaian. “It’s not in the best interest of Iran to hold an innocent journalist, an innocent man, in prison for now ten months, without any bases of evidence at all.”

Ali said that his brother, the Post’s Tehran bureau chief, had lost 40 pounds (18 kg) in prison.

“I think it’s just taken a toll on him physically, being isolated the way he is. He’s got a roommate but he doesn’t interact with anybody else. He doesn’t have access to other people and I think that really weighs on him,” said Ali.

Rezaian was arrested with his wife and two other Iranian-American friends, the female journalist and a man. His wife, Salehi, was freed on bail while the couple were released and none of them have been publicly charged.

According to Rezaian’s brother, the imprisoned journalist had a difficult time attaining legal representation, until last month, when he met with his attorney, Leila Ahsan, for the first and only time before the start of the trial.

“The judge and the court would not allow us to hire a bunch of people. We went through several different folks who we spoke with, higher profile attorneys,” said Ali, but none were allowed to or willing to take Rezaian’s case.

“She’s done a wonderful job,” said Ali of the Rezaian’s new attorney Ahsan. “She’s been very forceful in defending Jason, which is again, like we said, is exactly what he wants because he knows he hasn’t done anything wrong. He knows he’s innocent.”

Obama has called the charges against Rezaian “vague” and pressed Iran to release all American detainees.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in April that an intelligence operative, possibly linked to the U.S. government, may have “taken advantage” of Rezaian.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Iranian authorities to ensure a “fair and transparent trial.”