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Rezaian Case Continues as Iran Extends Media Repression

Even Rezaian’s mother Mary has been denied access to her son, having seen him only twice since his arrest last July. Mary Rezaian was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that her son was “very tired, very distressed,” as a result of being charged with espionage for nothing other than “reporting on a country that he loves.”

Asked about the trial, Jason Rezaian’s wife Yeganeh Salehi demurred, saying only “I am not in a good state.”

The closed-door nature of the trial appears to reflect a broader pursuit of secrecy by Iranian officials, related to more than just the Rezaian case, which lacked specific charges for much of Rezaian’s nearly year-long detention.

On Sunday, a seven-member European delegation to Tehran was accosted and threatened by Iranian security forces for attempting to speak to foreign reporters on the grounds of their hotel. AFP reports that the incident prompted angry exchanges between Iranian officials and European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Elmar Brok, who subsequently cancelled a planned interview with Iran’s state-run Press TV.

Photojournalists and videographers who were on the scene were also threatened by security forces and warned against capturing images of the confrontation. AFP points out that foreign media are strictly controlled in the Islamic Republic – a fact that may have contributed to the judiciary’s ability to construct a case against Jason Rezaian.

This assertion of control over foreign media naturally also extends to social media and the internet. Facebook, Twitter, and other popular platforms are officially blocked, but are routinely accessed by the progressive Iranian populous using virtual private networks and similar technical workarounds.

However, this defiance of official restrictions puts Iranian citizens at risk of prosecution along similar lines as Rezaian, who is being charged with espionage, propaganda, and sharing information with “undue” foreign parties.

Reuters reported on Monday that Iranian authorities had announced the arrest of five new individuals on security charges related to their use of social media. Officials also claimed that more arrests were likely to follow, targeting the same group of users who allegedly “called for illegal activities on social media.”

Owing to the religious laws in place in the Islamic Republic, “illegal activity” could consist of serious crimes or actions as simple as removing headscarves in public or making negative remarks about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Arrests of social media users often are justified with vague charges such as spreading “insults,” “propaganda,” or “corruption.”

Reuters notes that crackdowns on social media have amplified since it was used in 2009 to organize protests against the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What’s more, crackdowns on pro-Western or “un-Islamic” behavior seem to have grown stronger under the current presidency as authorities work to counteract rumors of moderation or outreach to the West in the midst of nuclear negotiations.

The AP points out that Mary Rezaian and various others have attributed the arrest and trial of Jason Rezaian to these same negotiations, alleging that this detention is aimed at securing additional leverage over the Americans.

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