The Post pointed out that no details have been released regarding the exact charges on which the reported has been convicted, or the sentence that he faces. This information has apparently been kept even from Rezaian’s lawyer, who has acknowledged that she has less than 20 days to appeal her client’s sentence and yet doesn’t know what sentence she will be appealing. Furthermore, the attorney indicated that it isn’t clear whether Rezaian himself knows what he has been convicted of or how long he can expect to be kept in Iran’s notorious prisons.
On the other hand, the Post suggests that the opportunity may still exist for Rezaian to be released as part of a prisoner exchange. But this possibility was cited as further evidence of Iran’s worsening behavior, as it contributes to the perception that the political prisoner is being held as a bargaining chip. At the same time that this might partly explain the secrecy regarding his conviction, it could also explain why Iranian state television alleged on Monday that Rezaian had fed information to the US about Iranian sanctions violators on US soil.
Nineteen people who violated sanctions that are set to be removed under the Iran nuclear agreement are currently being held in American prisons, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani floated the idea earlier this month that if they were released, Tehran might consider freeing Rezaian and two other American political prisoners, Amir Hekmati and Pastor Saeed Abedini.
But Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei subsequently seemed to eliminate this possibility when he barred his subordinates from engaging in any further negotiations of any kind with the United States.
As Iran News Update has pointed out, this ban on mere discussion appears to be a part of the Iranian regime’s ongoing efforts to isolate itself from any sort of Western or progressive influence, especially in the wake of the nuclear deal. Rezaian’s arrest and ultimate conviction may well have been motivated, at least in part, by this same impulse. Even hardline Iranian officials have been forced to admit that Rezaian’s journalist tended to paint a positive picture of Iran. But this may be part of the problem that those officials saw with his work, as it was understood to be aimed at fostering greater understanding between the peoples of the US and Iran.
There has been a steady stream of additional examples of the regime’s recent attempts to consolidate hardline ideology not just in terms of political speech but also in terms of cultural expressions. On Wednesday, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran pointed to the conviction of two poets, Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moosavi, as an example of the fact that repression in the Islamic Republic is intensifying. “Hardliners aren’t just going after political activists, they are determined to stamp out any social or cultural expression with which they disagree,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign’s executive director.
Ekhtesari has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison on the charge of insulting the sacred, and Moosavi has been sentenced to 11 years on the same charge. Each defendant was also sentenced to 99 lashes for the crime of shaking hands with non-relatives, an offense described in Iranian law as “illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery.”
The Campaign’s report thoroughly debunks the convictions, pointing out for instance that the supposedly un-Islamic writings of the two poets had previously been cleared for publication by Iran’s heavy-handed censorship authorities. When charges were brought against them in spite of this, their convictions were secured in large part through the use of forced confessions elicited under torture, a common tactic also reportedly utilized in the Rezaian case.
While each of these convictions arguably represents intensified repression, it is only the intensification of long-established trends, which have, for instance, secured Iran’s place on the annual list of worst jailers of journalists in the world. Along these same lines, the regime has apparently also stepped up its repressions of other perennial target groups, such as religious minorities.
IranWire reported, also on Wednesday, that two teachers, husband and wife Azita Rafizadeh and Peyman Kushak-Baghi, who are also parents of a five year-old son, have been convicted of membership in the Baha’i faith and “intention to act against national security” by participating in the Baha’i Open University, an organization that works to provide Baha’is with the higher education that they are denied as a matter of policy throughout Iran. Rafizadeh and Kushal-Baghi are on the verge of serving a four year and five year sentence, respectively, with no provisions for the guardianship of their son.
While rights groups periodically draw attention to these and other cases of arbitrary or unlawful imprisonment, none have had the same primacy in the US as the Rezaian case. Many of his advocates, and the advocates for the other two US citizens still being held in Iran, have expressed disappointment with the Obama administration’s response. This was reiterated on Wednesday in an article in the Chicago Tribune, which detailed the reactions of some of Rezaian’s friends from his youth in Illinois.
The interviewees expressed hope that back-channel deals were ongoing between the US and Iranian representatives, but they noted that they had seen little in the way of public action by the State Department. However, Financial Buzz reported on Wednesday that Secretary of State John Kerry had utilized a Boston press conference to defend himself against accusations of inaction in the midst of the nuclear negotiations that concluded in July. Many critics have insisted that the release of the three Americans should have been a precondition for any deal, but the Obama administration has maintained that linking the two issues would have imperiled the chances of successful negotiations on either point.
But with the nuclear negotiations behind it and further negotiations apparently closed off by Khamenei, it remains to be seen what else the Obama administration can do for Rezaian and his fellow Americans.