Reasons were not given for the arrest at the time, and it was several months before the Iranian judiciary announced that Rezaian was to be charged with national security crimes related to his contact and ostensible collaboration with persons and entities in the West.
Secrecy has shrouded the Rezaian case since the beginning. Foreign press and even the defendant’s own family were denied access to the courtroom during each of his hearings, the last of which took place only on August 10. But Rezaian’s defense attorney, Leila Ahsan, declared that the case file presented no evidence of the crimes of which her client is accused.
She said that she expects Rezaian to be fully acquitted. But if the Judge Salavati, who is known for hardline views and harsh sentences, decided to rule against Rezaian in spite of an apparent lack of evidence, the journalist could reportedly face a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.
Ahsan added that the revolutionary court was required to render a verdict within a week of that final hearing, but it still has not done so. Indeed, there have been no substantive updates regarding his status. But Rezaian’s advocates have previously pointed out that his physical and mental health have greatly deteriorated.
According to Live Trading News: “He has lost nearly 50 pounds and suffered several untreated infections, as well as significant physical mistreatment and psychological abuse,” stemming from months of harsh interrogations and long periods of solitary confinement.
During much of his detention, Western commentators speculated that it was aimed at securing Iranian leverage in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. The proximity of his eventual hearings to the final deadline for those talks may have given support to that hypothesis.
Without being quite so specific, Rezaian’s brother Ali, issued a statement on the 400th day of his imprisonment, saying in part: “The numerous trial delays and amount of time Jason has spent in jail without bail—which apparently is unprecedented for any foreign journalist—only reaffirm our family’s belief that he is being used for political purposes and that the allegations against him are completely baseless.”
With a nuclear deal concluded and Rezaian still languishing in prison along with two other Americans – Amir Hekmati and Pastor Saeed Abedini – speculation has grown about the possibility that Iran is holding Rezaian in hopes of swapping him for Iranian nationals currently being held in American prisons.
Tehran has explicitly denied this, but it has also given subtle indications to the contrary. For instance, the AP reports that Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham held a press conference on the occasion of Rezaian’s 400th day in prison, in which she avoided referring to him by name but did call for the release of 19 individuals imprisoned, mostly for violations of economic sanctions.
The United States has similarly been pressuring Iran to release the three imprisoned American citizens and also to provide information on the whereabouts of a fourth, former FBI agent Robert Levison, who has been missing in Iran since 2007. No evidence has been revealed against those who are accused of spying. Meanwhile, Pastor Abedini is serving an eight year sentence for undermining state security, on the basis of his support for private churches allowing Iranian Christians to practice their faith.