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Iran sentences US reporter to jail after ‘closed door’ trial

An Iranian court on Sunday sentenced Jason Rezaian, a reporter for The Washington Post, to an unspecified prison sentence for spying charges, prompting US officials to call for the charges to be dropped.


"Serving a jail term is in Jason Rezaian's sentence but I cannot give details," Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei told a weekly news conference in Tehran, according to Iranian state news agency IRNA. Iranian officials have remained opaque about Rezaian’s case since the journalist was arrested over a year ago.

Rezaian, The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, was arrested in July 2014 on charges of "collaborating with hostile governments" and "propaganda against the establishment," according to a statement from Rezeian’s lawyer. Rezaian was convicted the following October after what Western journalists said was a closed-door trial.

Since his arrest, Rezaian’s family and employers, as well as US officials, have maintained his innocence. "His trial and sentence are a sham, and he should be released immediately," said a statement from Douglas Jehl, foreign editor of The Washington Post.

"We continue to call for all charges against Jason to be dropped and for him to be immediately released," US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in October.

Efforts to mount an appeal for Rezaian were frustrated by the lack of details provided by the Iranian court about his charges.

Part of a ‘larger game’

According to Jehl, Iran’s unwillingness to share details about Rezaian’s case indicate that the journalist is caught up in a "larger game" of Iranian politics. Other sources have suggested that Rezaian is a victim of the internal power struggle between Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, and more conservative forces in the government.

“Iran is not like other countries, where you can be friendly with officials,” Ramin Mostaghim, an Iranian-American journalist told The New York Times in July.

Born in California, Rezaian holds both US and Iranian citizenship, and has been working for The Washington Post in Iran since 2012. Iran experts and friends and colleagues of Mr. Rezaian, speaking to The New York Times in July, suggested that Rezaian may have run afoul of the government by making inside connections with Rouhani’s office for reporting purposes. Having such connections can be perilous for anyone in Iran, but especially for an American.

Marginalised by nuclear talks

Rezaian may also be a victim of the US’s efforts to forge a nuclear deal with Iran. Soon after Rezaian’s arrest, members of Rouhani’s government expressed optimism that Rezaian would be released quickly so as not to create a blemish on US-Iran nuclear negotiations.

After the negotiations, however, a top US diplomat made it clear that Rezaian and other American prisoners in Iran were not a high priority during nuclear talks. “We were very careful … to keep a separate track on getting our American citizens home, ” Wendy Sherman, an official for the US State Department, told National Public Radio in October. Sherman added that any discussion of Rezaian and other prisoners was “on the margins of the nuclear negotiations”.

Two other US citizens - Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, a former US Marine Corps sergeant - also are being held in Iran. Robert Levinson, a private investigator, disappeared there in 2007. However, Rezaian’s detention has been the longest for any Western journalist in Iran.


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