No details have been released regarding the case against them, and no specific charges have been filed. But the release of the fourth individual helps to discount any lingering possibility that these arrests are not a result of the three arrestees’ work as journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists points out that there are at least 35 members of the press currently detained in Iran for their perceived challenges to the regime or to the nation’s Islamic values.
Among other victims of press repression is Saba Azarpeik, who had been working for newspaper Etemad at the time of her arrest in May. Two months later, Iranian courts have reportedly still not detailed the charges against Azarpeik, though they have continued to hold her in solitary confinement, without being permitted contact from her family or her attorney.
Azarpeik’s case, however, is easier to understand than the case of Rezaian and Salehi. Azarpeik is known for conducting hard-hitting interviews that sometimes highlighted opposition to the regime’s positions. Rezaian apparently has no such reputation. Iran observer described Rezaian’s stories as having never taken a firm stance against the regime, and sometimes even being harsh on Iranian opposition.
Rezaian’s mother released a videotaped plea for the release of him and his wife on Tuesday, in which she pointed out that her son had used his position as a foreign journalist to try to shine a positive light on Iran. She stated that his love of Iran, his father’s homeland, “is so infectious that he has made a career out of sharing its beauty with others.”
Rezaian was born in San Francisco, began traveling to Iran frequently as a freelance writer, and now holds dual American and Iranian citizenship. This fact further separates his case from that of Saba Azarpeik, and makes it arguably more complicated for the Iranian regime. Domestic journalists have little recourse to plead for their own release, unless they have close contacts outside of Iran. But because Rezaian is an American citizen and a Washington Post correspondent, his employers and the US State Department have joined international free press organizations in demanding that he be released along with his wife and the third journalist.
Because so little is known about the case, it is unclear why Iran might have felt the need to extend its domestic press repression to these international journalists, thereby bringing greater international attention to the issue. Iran’s history with the press shows that its arrests of journalists are virtually always politically motivated. But significant questions remain about the particular motives in this case.