After more than a year of imprisonment, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian has been sentenced by an Iranian court for spying charges.
Mr. Rezaian, 39, the Tehran bureau chief for the Post, was convicted last month for espionage. The sentence was revealed Sunday by Iranian media.
The length of Rezaian's imprisonment is unspecified and has not yet been finalized, according to Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, the spokesman for Iran's judiciary.
"The verdict has been issued but has not been officially handed down to the accused or his lawyer,” Mr. Ejehi said, as reported by CNN.
“Given the fact that the verdict has not been officially handed down, I cannot reveal the details but what I can say is that the accused has been sentenced to prison.”
Rezaian, who is both an American and an Iranian citizen, was convicted Oct. 11 for what Tehran’s prosecutor general deems “espionage by collecting the country’s decisions on the issues of internal and foreign policy, and cooperation with hostile governments” – a claim that the Post calls absurd.
Authorities in the United States suggest Rezaian’s conviction is nothing more than a bargaining chip, perhaps something the Iranian government eventually hopes to use in a prisoner swap.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani implied in September that Iran could free Rezaian in exchange for Iranian prisoners in the US, but official negotiations never came to fruition. Officials subsequently undermined the possibility of the deal.
The State Department is calling for Rezaian’s immediate release.
"We've seen the reports of a sentence in the case of US citizen Jason Rezaian in Iran, but cannot confirm the details ourselves at this time,” a spokesperson told CNN. “If true, we call on the Iranian authorities to vacate this sentence and immediately free Jason so that he can be returned to his family.”
The government is also urging Iran to release two other American prisoners, Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, and to help locate Robert Levinson, a kidnapped former Drug Enforcement Agency and FBI agent.
Rezaian was detained on July 22, 2014 along with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and two photojournalists. The three others have all since been released.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Iran has the second highest number of imprisoned journalists and was ranked as the seventh most censored country. Last year, the Iran jailed 30 reporters, most of whom are still serving their sentence. China is on the top of the list with 44 journalists imprisoned in 2014.
In many parts of the world, journalists live in risk of harassment from their governments. Or worse yet, they are murdered outside any framework of justice.
As Springfield News-Leader editor Rob Leger wrote for the Society of Professional Journalists: “In the United States, revealing corruption can win you a Pulitzer Prize. In other countries, it can get you a bullet to the brain.”
CPJ has tallied a total of 48 journalists who were killed in 2015, and an additional 16 are suspected to have died on the job. The past 20 years have not seen much improvement in mitigating the risks of death for reporters. In fact, the number of those killed has increased since 2004.
Most were murdered. Less than a quarter were fatally caught in the crossfires of war.
There are, however, services that help protect reporters in high-risk areas. Groups like the CJP, founded by journalists for journalists, provide medical care, legal funds, and financial support for families. It also helps individuals go into hiding or evacuation to escape threats of violence.
Similarly, Reporters Sans Frontieres prepares journalists with training materials and helps them deal with the psychological effects of covering war zones. The organization is famous for lending reporters bullet-proof vests and helmets with “PRESS” written on them.
“Usually, the worst we [journalists] have to deal with is a police officer telling us we can’t cross this line or a subscriber angry enough about a story to cancel a subscription,” Mr. Leger continued.
“But sometimes, in too many countries, journalists have to decide if a story is worth risking their life for. That so many continue pursuing truth is a testament.”