As Washington Post reporter goes on trial, anger at 'Kafkaesque restrictions'

The trial of Jason Rezaian for espionage began today in a Tehran court. The judge barred family members and the media and from the courtroom.

Vahid Salemi/AP/File
An Iranian court on Tuesday held the first hearing in the closed trial of Jason Rezaian, who has been detained for more than 10 months.

Reporter Jason Rezaian got his first day in court Tuesday after spending more than 10 months in Iranian jail on charges of espionage.

But dubious “Kafkaesque restrictions” – a term previously used by Mr. Rezainan’s employer, The Washington Post, to describe Tehran’s handling of the case – have remained in place. The  judge presiding over the trial has barred journalists and family members from attending the trial.

“If Iran had a case against Jason Rezaian, it would try him in public,” tweeted Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It doesn’t and won’t.”

Rezaian, who holds both American and Iranian citizenship, is being tried in a Revolutionary Court on allegations of "espionage for the hostile government of the United States" and propaganda against the Islamic Republic, according to IRNA, Iran’s official news agency. The Associated Press noted that while IRNA didn’t provide further details, prosecutors in Iran usually name their charges in initial hearings.

Rezaian’s brother, Ali Rezaian, told The New York Times that the Iranian government is presenting two pieces of evidence of espionage:

An American visa application for Yeganeh Salehi, Jason Rezaian’s wife, an Iranian citizen and a journalist, and a form letter sent by Mr. Rezaian to Barack Obama’s 2008 White House transition team offering help to improve relations between Iran and the United States. It is unclear why the Iranian authorities believe those documents to be incriminating.

The Washington Post's executive editor, Martin Baron, harshly criticized Tehran for its “shameful acts on injustice” against Rezaian in a statement published on the paper's website. He said the decision to have a closed trial means it “will be closed to the scrutiny it fully deserves.”

“There is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it, and yet the fate of a good, innocent man hangs in the balance,” Mr. Baron said. “Iran is making a statement about its values in its disgraceful treatment of our colleague, and it can only horrify the world community.”

Rezaian’s case has also drawn scorn from a wide range of journalists and press freedom advocates. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Iran to ensure a fair and transparent trial and to allow Rezaian’s defense team and the Post access to court proceedings. A senior editor of The Washington Post applied for a visa to attend the trial but was unsuccessful.

"Iran must end this travesty of justice immediately," said Sherif Mansour, the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "After more than 300 days of unwarranted detention, the least Iran could do is to release Rezaian on bail and grant his employer entry to the country and access to the legal proceedings."

US officials repeatedly have pressed Iran to release Rezaian, including during talks on the sidelines of negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program. But in April, The Christian Science Monitor reported that that Rezaian might not be released – regardless of the legal timeline – ahead of a June 30 deadline for a comprehensive agreement.

The Post has said Rezaian faces up to 10 to 20 years in prison. The Associated Press reported that his wife is a target as well:

Last week, Rezaian's lawyer said Salehi, who is a reporter for The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, and a freelance photographer who worked for foreign media, will also stand trial.

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