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US reporter’s espionage trial underway in Tehran

Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist, faces charges of spying against Iran. The charges against his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for The National, who was also taken to the court, are still unknown.
Jason Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post and his wife Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for The National, were taken to court on Tuesday after being detained in July last year. EPA
Jason Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post and his wife Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for The National, were taken to court on Tuesday after being detained in July last year. EPA

NEW YORK // The trial of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has been held in an Iranian prison for ten months on accusations of espionage, began on Tuesday.

Rezaian, a dual US-Iran citizen, was arrested in July along with his Iranian wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for The National.

Salehi, who was granted bail in October, and Rezaian’s mother went to the court building but were not permitted access to the trial, Rezaian’s brother, Ali, told the Post.

The hearing was held at Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, and lasted two hours, Iranian media said.

No details about the charges or evidence presented in the trial emerged, though the judge, Abolghassem Salavati, will announce the date of the next session, the IRNA state news agency reported.

The status of the case against Salehi and another photojournalist arrested with the couple remains unclear.

However, the Post’s executive editor Martin Baron, said she “faces related charges” and will be tried separately.

Rezaian, 39, has remained jailed at the Evin prison, where he has endured solitary confinement, long interrogations and deteriorating health, according to Ali.

His lawyer Leila Ahsan said he faces four charges. “He has been charged with espionage, for collecting information about the country’s domestic and foreign policy issues,” she told Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

“He is also facing the charges of collecting confidential information, collaborating with hostile governments, spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic and writing a letter to the US president [Barack] Obama,” she added.

Ms Ahsan has only been allowed to meet her client once, for an hour, in the presence of Iranian authorities.

The US on Tuesday renewed calls for Tehran to drop the “absurd” spying charges against Rezaian, saying there was a “complete lack of transparency” in his trial.

“While we call for this trial to be open, we also maintain that Jason should never have been detained or put on trial in the first place,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.

According to his brother Ali, the Iranian government considers a US visa application for Salehi as one of the evidence, and another is a form letter Rezaian received in response to an online job application he submitted for a position with US president Barack Obama’s new administration shortly after the 2008 presidential election.

In his application Rezaian cited his “familiarity with Iran and wide cross-section of Iranian society”, according to the Post’s executive editor Martin Baron. “Jason received an unsigned, form response by e-mail and was never hired,” Mr Baron said, adding that “Jason never wrote directly to president Obama and was never hired by the Obama administration”.

Iranian media have published a number of unsubstantiated reports claiming Rezaian was a US spy and passed economic and industrial information to Washington, but the trial has been widely condemned as a sham by the Post, Rezaian’s family and international human rights groups.

“The shameful acts of injustice continue without end in the treatment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian,” said Mr Baron. A senior editor from the Post was not given a visa to attend the trial in Iran, the paper reported, and Rezaian’s mother, Mary Rezaian, has been in Tehran trying unsuccessfully to be allowed to attend the trial.

Analysts suggest that the timing of the trial, which coincides with the final weeks of negotiations between Iran and world powers led by the US over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme is not coincidental and that Rezaian is being used as a form of leverage.

tkhan@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse

This article was updated on May 28, 2015. An earlier version said Rezaian sent a letter to Mr Obama when in fact, he applied online for a job for the incoming Obama administation.

Updated: May 26, 2015 04:00 AM

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