The Iranian judiciary, which has imprisoned Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian for the past 15 months and subjected him to a secret trial on baseless espionage charges, has reportedly reached a verdict.
But, as with nearly everything regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran—whose leaders are riven by factional disputes between so-called moderates and hard-liners—the disposition of the verdict and whether it involves further jail time remained a mystery Sunday, hours after its existence was revealed during a weekly televised news conference between Iranian journalists and a judiciary spokesman.
As of this writing, Rezaian’s Iranian lawyer in Tehran, where The Post’s bureau chief has been jailed and isolated under harrowing conditions in the notorious Evin Prison, had yet to receive official notification of the court action.
It comes mere weeks after Iran’s foreign minister concluded a deal to cease nuclear weapons development in return for the lifting of economic sanctions by the United States and other countries involved in grueling multi-year negotiations in Geneva.
“The ruling on this case has been issued,” Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei declared, as quoted by The Post. “There is still the possibility of this ruling being appealed, and it is not final.”
Ejei didn’t say how recently the verdict was issued, and news of the ruling—two months after Rezaian’s trial is said to have concluded—came as a surprise on Day 447 of his captivity, three days longer than the 444 days that American diplomats were held hostage by Iran’s newly installed revolutionary government more than three decades ago.
“I talked to Jason’s brother, Ali, who’s been in touch with Jason’s lawyer,” Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl told The Daily Beast. “And the lawyer got no advance notice of this announcement today, and no details of the verdict has been communicated to her at all.”
But Jehl added that while the verdict was unknown Sunday, “given the unfairness that Iran has demonstrated throughout, there is a basis for fearing the worst.”
Noting that both Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari—the lead negotiator on the nuclear deal—and President Hassan Rouhani have expressed a willingness to release Rezaian and two other imprisoned Americans in return for the United States freeing an estimated 19 Iranians held in U.S. prisons, Jehl added: “I think it’s increasingly clear that Jason is being used as a bargain chip. We’ve heard very clearly now from the [Iranian] president and others that they could take steps to bring about Jason’s release if only the United States moved to release Iranians held in American jails.
“I think it’s increasingly clear that ultimately this is going to be resolved at political levels,” Jehl said, instead of the secretive Iranian judicial system. “We want to see the process move swiftly in the hands of the senior leaders of Iran who can ultimately make the decisions to bring Jason home.”
While Jehl generally praised the U.S. State Department for pressing for Rezaian’s release diplomatically, and credited Secretary of State John Kerry and his team for raising the issue repeatedly—in a “parallel” discussion with their Iranian counterparts, separate from the nuclear negotiations—the Post foreign editor urged U.S. officials to “do much more” to keep Rezaian’s case in the public eye.
“I think it’s helpful when the president has mentioned Jason’s case in public, and I think it’s valuable when the government officials meet with relatives of those held in foreign countries to demonstrate their support,” Jehl said, adding that Obama hasn’t publicly cited Rezaian’s imprisonment since a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in July.
Jehl parried when asked if Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and others have a point when they criticize U.S. officials for not demanding the freedom of Rezaian and the other jailed Americans as part of the nuclear deal.
“I don’t want to get mixed up in the question of the U.S. government should have negotiated the Iran nuclear deal,” he said. “The U.S. government, of course, has said they didn’t want Jason’s case to be vulnerable to a failure in the nuclear talks if that happened.”
Jehl added: “But I think we are all gravely disappointed that so much time has passed that even while an agreement between the two countries has been reached on the nuclear matter, Jason and two other Americans remain prisoners.”
Jehl said the 39-year-old Rezaian, who holds dual American and Iranian citizenship as the United States-born son of an Iranian immigrant, continues to suffer physically and psychologically since he and his Iranian-born wife, fellow journalist Yeganeh Salehi, were arrested by authorities at their home in July 2014.
Rezaian has lost nearly 50 pounds and contracted a variety of infections while at Evin, which had a reputation for torture and executions of political prisoners in the days of the shah, a staunch ally of United States, and has continued to be a feared locale under the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard and the mullahs who overthrew the ruthless secular dictator.
A month after her arrest, Salehi was released to her family and forbidden to work as she awaits trial—although she and sometimes Jason’s mother, Mary, have been permitted recently to have brief weekly visits with him, strictly monitored by prison officials.
“We won’t have a full picture [of Rezaian’s condition] until he is released,” Jehl said. “I think it’s clear that 15 months, largely in isolation, have taken a significant physical and psychological toll.”
Both Post executive editor Marty Baron and Jason’s older brother, Ali Rezaian, 44—who was unavailable for an interview Sunday—issued statements reacting to the news from Iran.
Baron declared: “This vague and puzzling statement by the government of Iran only adds to the injustice that has surrounded Jason’s case since his arrest 15 months ago. Jason is a victim—arrested without cause, held for months in isolation, without access to a lawyer, subjected to physical mistreatment and psychological abuse, and now convicted without basis.
“The only thing that has ever been clear about this case is Jason’s innocence. If a ruling has been issued and is now being reviewed, this puts the onus on Iran’s senior leaders to demonstrate the fairness and justice that could only lead to Jason’s exoneration and release.”
In a statement posted on the website supporting his brother and sister-in-law, freejasonandyegi.com, Ali Rezaian said this latest development “follows an unconscionable pattern by Iranian authorities of silence, obfuscation, delay and a total lack of adherence to international law, as well as Iranian law. The Iranian government has never provided any proof of the trumped up espionage and other charges against Jason, so today’s vague statement on a purported verdict, while certainly disappointing to our family, is not surprising.
“While the status of any verdict in his case remains unclear, there is much about Jason we know for certain. Jason was simply a journalist doing his job and following all the rules when he was wrongly arrested and imprisoned in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison.
“He is an innocent man that has been kept under harsh conditions to the detriment of his health and well-being for nearly 450 days. There is worldwide condemnation for the Iranian government’s unlawful detention of Jason and calls from across the globe for his immediate release. We remain hopeful that Jason will soon be released and reunited with this family.”