Already, Rezaian has been kept in Iran’s jails for approximately three times longer than any other Western journalist, according to Fox News. Long imprisonment of domestic journalists, however, is quite commonplace in Iran, which is routinely identified as one of the worst jailers of reporters by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Rezaian holds dual American-Iranian citizenship, but Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. This fact has been repeatedly cited by regime officials to rebuff US efforts to intervene not only in the Rezaian case but also in the cases of Amir Hekmati and Pastor Saeed Abedini, two other American-Iranian dual citizens held captive in Iran.
All three of these cases were raised once again on Monday in an article in the Los Angeles Times, alongside the case of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007. The article describes each of these men as apparently being political pawns for the Iranian regime. It has variously been suggested that Rezaian’s arrest and the long delays in his case were aimed at creating leverage in nuclear negotiations, or simply at sending a message that Tehran’s attitudes toward the US are unchanged and that no one should expect serious improvements in relations between the two countries.
The Los Angeles Times endorses the latter view in particular, and with respect to all three of the acknowledged American prisoners. The article quotes Abbas Milani, the head of the Stanford University Iranian Studies program as saying that the outcomes for such political prisoners is generally determined by which political forces are in control in Tehran. The dubious conviction of Jason Rezaian thus confirms that notwithstanding the optimism that has surrounded the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, hardline opposition to the West continues to rule the day in Iranian matters of policy and law enforcement.
Indeed, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran issued a statement on Monday in which it emphasized that by not questioning the Rezaian case in any measure, President Rouhani was continuing a long pattern of betraying his promises to create a freer Iranian society. The Campaign’s Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi also described the conviction as “politicized justice at its worst.”
Last week, the Campaign claimed that it was increasingly likely that Rezaian would be convicted on little other than a forced confession elicited under the threat of torture and even worse sentencing. Nothing has emerged from Iran’s statements on the case to contradict this. The Campaign reiterated on Monday that the trials had been conspicuously secretive and that Rezaian had been systematically denied any sort of due process. On three occasions, lawyers chosen for him by his family were rejected by the Iranian judiciary, and even after another lawyer was allowed to act as his defense she was barred from having more than cursory contact with him and was initially deprived of access to the case file.
That case file also reportedly reflected a low standard of evidence. The Los Angeles Times points out that the accusations that Rezaian had been engaged in spying activities were backed up by such things as a job application that he had filled out online for a position with the Obama administration’s White House transition team in 2008, as well as a US visa application for Rezaian’s wife Yeganeh Salehi, who was arrested alongside him last year but was eventually released on bail.
The denial of due process seems already poised to continue into the appeals process, as the International Campaign reports that detailed information of Rezaian’s conviction and its grounds have not even been released to his lawyer, who has 20 days to file an appeal.
International media attention has been known to have some effect upon the reviews of political prisoners’ cases in higher Iranian courts, though even then they are unlikely to result in release. It is perhaps due in part to the high profile nature of Amir Hekmati’s imprisonment that his initial death sentence on unsubstantiated espionage charges was ultimately overturned in favor of a ten year prison sentence for collaboration with “hostile” powers.
It remains to be seen whether international attention will have an impact on the Rezaian case, but it is certain that he has advocates outside of Iran who will make continuous efforts to keep it in the media spotlight. These include his brother Ali and his colleagues and employers, especially Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron, who was quick to issue a statement following the apparent conviction, criticizing Iran for still failing to present any evidence whatsoever to justify its increasingly elaborate accusations.
Last week, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps declared that Rezaian had been working with the US government to establish a network of contacts inside Iran aimed at toppling the current regime. But there does not seem to be any further evidence for this beyond the mere existence of Rezaian’s personal and professional connections, and this may suggest that the IRGC and other hardliners deemed him guilty simply because of his Western affiliations.
Previously, the regime had asserted that Rezaian gathered information about Iranian economic and political affairs and disseminated them to the West. This accusation was characterized by some of his advocates as Rezaian being criminalized for simply watching the news in Iran and discussing it with friends and colleagues.
Around the same time that the IRGC elaborated upon its existing accusations, it also pushed for the judiciary to release Rezaian’s forced confession to the public in order to influence public opinion on the case. Domestically, information on this and other political cases is heavily filtered through Iran’s several state media outlets and its censorship of independent sources. The International Campaign noted in its statement that Rezaian’s wife had been legally barred from talking to the media about his case.
This also is common practice in Iranian legal cases, especially politically sensitive ones. And it suggests that in the current situation, if Rezaian’s case is to be influenced by serious advocacy, it will be centered outside of Iran. Given Rezaian’s dual citizenship, that is particularly likely, but it stands to reason that many other Iranian political prisoners could similarly benefit from foreign media attention focused on the same abuses and denials of due process.