April 22, 2015 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Detained US journalist used in Iranian power struggle

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the way rival government factions in Iran are using the case of detained Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian for political purposes in an unrelenting struggle for power.

Rezaian, who completes his ninth month in detention today, is to face trial on several charges including spying, his lawyer reported two days ago. He has US and Iranian dual nationality.

Arrested in a completely illegal manner by Revolutionary Guards on 22 July 2014, Rezaian has been held ever since in the security wing of Tehran’s Evin prison. Like other detained journalists, he has been subjected to to a greal of a pressure, including long spells of solitary confinement, in order to extract a confession for use in a trial.

His lawyer, Leila Ahsan, told Agence France-Presse on 20 April that he is accused of spying, cooperating with hostile governments, gathering confidential information and anti-government propaganda. She added that her meeting with Rezaian on 20 April was their first since she took the case at the start of March.

Farsnews, a news agency linked to the Revolutionary Guards, already reported on 12 April, a week before her announcement, that Rezaian woud be tried for “selling business and industrial information to the CIA.”

Responding to the report the same day, Washington Post editor Martin Baron described the allegation as absurd and condemned the fact that Rezaian had been denied any legal advice for the past nine months.

Vatan-é Emrooz, an extremist daily that supports the Revolutionary Guards and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ran a front-page story on 18 April that was headlined “Unveiling Jason’s secrets.” It accused Rezaian of infiltrating the government and various institutions to uncover the methods used by Iran to circumvent international sactions.

Iranian opponents of the nuclear accord with the United States and better relations with the international community have been referring to the Rezaian case since 3 April, and this is no coincidence because Rezaian was arrested with the aim of being used in this all-out war betweeen rival ruling factions,” said Reza Moini, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Iran/Afghanistan desk.

“Unfortunately, the governments led by Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani let slip an opportunity to include human rights and the release of journalists as one of the priorities in their talks. We call for the immediate release of Jason Rezaian and all the other detained journalists and bloggers.”

Revolutionary Guards in plain clothes arrested Rezaian at his Tehran home on 22 July along with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi – a journalist working for The National, a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates – and two other US citizens.

Their apartment was searched and ransacked, and all computers and electronic devices were seized. The two other US citizens were released provisionally a month later. After payment of a large sum in bail, Salehi was freed provisionally on 4 October pending trial.

Ever since his arrest, Rezaian’s family in the United States has been pressing the Obama administration to make his release a priority.

In a statement issued on 2 April, Rezaian’s brother, Ali, said: “Now that the framework agreement is in place, we call on the Iranian leadership to review the evidence their underlings claim to have against Jason.”

More than 400,000 people have so far signed a petition for Rezaian’s release that Reporters Without Borders has relayed. Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire joined a dozen well-known media figures, including Noam Chomsky, Anderson Cooper, Christiane Amanpour, Marty Baron and National Press Club president John Hughes, in writing to Iranian judicial system chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani requesting Rezaian’s immediate release.

Rezaian is not the only information provider with dual citizenship currently held in Iran. A Tehran court sentenced Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, who has dual Iranian and British citizenship, on 27 May 2014 to 20 years in prison, a sentence that was reduced to five years at the start of this month. Farideh Shahgholi, who has dual Iranian and German citizenship, is serving a three-year jail term. Both were arrested in connection with their activities on Facebook and other social networks.

President Obama half-heartedly requested Rezaian’s release in his Iranian New Year greeting on 20 March. The British and German authorities have not so far issued any official statement about the detention of their citizens. It is time the international community seriously tackled the Iranian authorities about respect for fundamental rights and the release of detained journalists and online activists.

Iran is ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.