Jason Rezaian is mad as hell—but, unfortunately, he’s going to have to take it some more.
The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief today marks Day 496 as a hostage of the Islamic Republic of Iran—an inmate of the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran with no comprehensible justification.
“I think his condition right now isn’t good,” Ali Rezaian, Jason’s older brother, told The Daily Beast. “He’s very depressed and he’s mad at pretty much everybody. He’s mad at our government. He’s mad at the Iranians that they would do this to him.”
Jason, 39, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen born to an Iranian father and American mother in Marin County, California, has now been imprisoned by Iranian authorities four times longer than any previously incarcerated Western journalist.
He has been tried, convicted and—according to a vague official announcement on November 22—sentenced to an unknown prison term on a bogus unspecified charge of espionage.
His jailing occurs during a period in which President Obama’s administration entered multilateral negotiations and signed a deal calling for the lifting of rigorous economic sanctions on Iran in return for a verification mechanism and an Iranian pledge not to develop a nuclear weapon—all this, without securing the release of Jason, let alone two (possibly three) other Americans being held without cause.
“The fact of the matter is the administration had the power to decide on what basis they were going to talk to the Iranians, and they set their priorities and they set their ground rules,” said Ali, whose own anger is directed primarily (but, judging by his tone of frustration, not exclusively) at the so-called revolutionary government in Tehran. “And the Iranians set their own ground rules, which included things like massive amounts of sanctions relief to the tune of what I’ve been told is up to $700 million a month.”
He added: “Look, all the countries [involved in the negotiations] have ground rules that they wanted to work under. And ours could have been, ‘Hey, we don’t have to talk to you when you’ve got innocent Americans held in jail for no reason.’...
“I’m not a foreign policy expert. I’m not a diplomat,” Ali continued. “All I know is the Iranians are not going to let Jason or anybody else go unless they realize there’s a consequence for holding them. And in this case, the consequence for holding has been absolutely zero...
“America is the only superpower, or used to be. Surely we could come up with a consequence for the Iranians that would make it worth their while to release Jason.”
Franz Kafka could not have dreamed up a more perverse scenario: Eight days ago, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary announced that Jason had been handed an indeterminate prison sentence after a perfunctory secret trial held months ago, after which Jason was apparently convicted of a phony espionage charge for which the prosecutor didn’t bother to offer any evidence—because, of course, none existed.
Apparently the smoking gun that supposedly proved Jason’s collusion with the U.S. government was an unsuccessful online job application to the Obama transition team in late 2008, when he was a freelance reporter based in Tehran.
He joined The Post as a fulltime staffer in 2012, and his reporting has focused on social, cultural and lifestyle issues, not domestic or international politics.
His last Post story before his July 2014 arrest was an affectionate feature about the improbable exploits of an Iranian baseball team, a group of young Persians totally in love with the quintessential American pastime.
"Serving a jail term is in Jason Rezaian's sentence but I cannot give details," judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei told his weekly news conference the Sunday before last in one of his typically furtive pronouncements.
“It’s completely fabricated. There’s no justification for it whatsoever,” said the 44-year-old Ali, who has all but abandoned his business as a biotech and pharmaceutical consultant—while spending much less time than he’d like with his wife and son—to toil on behalf of his kid brother’s freedom. “He didn’t do anything wrong. They went through hundreds of thousands of emails. They spent five months interrogating him. There’s nothing they can pin on him.”
In what was initially thought to be a bureaucratic error of some sort, Jason—whose press credentials had just been renewed by the Iranian government—was arrested along with his Iranian-born wife, fellow journalist Yeganeh (“Yegi”) Salehi, at their home in Tehran in July 2014, before a planned vacation in the United States.
Iranian authorities didn’t even acknowledge custody of the couple until weeks later, and Salehi—who’s awaiting a trial of her own—spent a month in prison before being released to her family.
Among other harsh restrictions, the Iranians have denied Yegi permission to work as a reporter (she’s a correspondent for The National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi) or have any contact with foreigners except for her widowed mother-in-law, Mary Rezaian, a retired family and marriage therapist who has moved to Tehran to support her son.
According to Ali, Mary and Yegi are permitted an hour-long joint visit in prison with Jason every Tuesday--although sometimes the guards cut the visit short--and Yegi is allowed to see her husband by herself for an hour every other Saturday.
In addition, Yegi and Mary each are permitted a 5-minute-long weekly phone call with Jason, who otherwise mixes with his cellmate and the prison guards but is forbidden to speak with his Iranian lawyer, Leila Ahsan.
“He was allowed to confer with his attorney once before the trial,” Ali said. “At that time one of his interrogators was present along with a translator an official of the Iranian government. So the government knows every single thing they’re discussing. It’s not like they even put you in a room with a hidden microphone...
“And then Jason and his attorney saw each other in court for the four-day trial, which lasted around two or three hours each day. Other than when they were in court, there was no contact, and nothing afterwards.”
Ali said he occasionally speaks to officials at the State Department about Jason’s case, and is grateful for the regular statements of support from various media outlets and journalism organizations.
He also appreciates a change.org petition to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, along with President Hassan Rouhani and Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, signed by more than 562,000 supporters and demanding the “unconditional release” of his brother.
Meanwhile, Ali frequently confers with top editors at The Post, especially Jason’s boss, Foreign Editor Douglas Jehl.
In a recent interview, Jehl speculated that the announcement of Jason’s sentence might actually be a hopeful sign, in the sense that it could move a byzantine and often nonsensical process toward a positive resolution.
“I don’t necessarily disagree with that,” Ali said, “but we’ve had long periods of time where Jason was held illegally, with the Iranians breaking their own laws, so I think that has been somewhat dispiriting...They can’t do anything legally, and have been flouting their own laws in every way they can.”
He added that it’s impossible to rely upon anything uttered by Iranian officials, who are given to contradictory and confusing declarations regarding Jason’s situation.
Ali said rumors of disagreements about Jason’s fate between hardliners and so-called moderates in the Iranian government—represented by Khamenei and Rouhani, respectively—are greatly exaggerated.
“I think people overestimate the differences between them,” Ali said. “Anybody who has a public face in the Iranian government believes in the Islamic Republic and believes it should be strengthened in one way or another. That doesn’t have anything to do with Jason.”