Rezaian’s family, friends, and employers have unanimously dismissed the charges, and the arrest has been widely interpreted by human rights organizations and political analysts as being motivated by hardline animosity toward the West. The duration of his imprisonment has also been linked to the P5+1 nuclear negotiations, which completed on July 14, shortly after Rezaian had finally had his first hearings.
He has been held in prison since July 2014, and his mother told the AP that the Iranian legal code does not allow for him to remain in prison for more than a year without sentencing. Much of his imprisonment has entailed solitary confinement, and most of his family’s attempts to visit him have been obstructed.
Even in the case of the last hearing, the AP reports that Rezaian’s mother, Mary and brother, Ali were barred from entering the courtroom. They were present outside along with Rezaian’s wife Yeganeh Salehi, a journalist for the United Arab Emirates’ The National newspaper, who was arrested alongside Rezaian but later released on bail. Ahsan speculates that she may be brought to trial shortly after her husband has been sentenced.
Whether that sentencing will take place next week is not certain. Ahsan’s speculations are not backed up by anything official from the Iranian judiciary, which has been secretive throughout the process, failing to so much as announce the charges against the prisoner until April 20. For several months of his detention, his precise whereabouts were not known to his family or to the press.
Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron said in a recent statement, “The process has been anything but transparent and just, and that pattern persists. The only thing that is clear is Jason’s innocence.”
Last month the paper filed a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions as part of an effort to advocate for the journalist’s release. But the newfound pressure on this particular issue merely adds to perennial advocacy that is directed at Iran’s widespread targeting and repression of both foreign and domestic media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists consistently ranks Iran among the worst jailers of journalists in the world. And this stems from the regime’s apparent perception of the media as little more than a propaganda arm for its own interests. In reporting on the recent shut-down of an Iranian newspaper that had criticized the nuclear deal with the P5+1, Iran Wire pointed out that Iran’s media law states that all outlets “must obey and follow any instructions received from the Supreme National Security Council” and “avoid publishing defamation against Iranian authorities.”
Rezaian’s charges stem in part from claims that he communicated with persons in the West about Iran’s economics and foreign policy. His brother has characterized this charging Rezaian with a crime for watching domestic news and talking about it with friends.
Tehran has a long and ongoing history of backlash against persons who expose facts that are inconvenient to its rule or contrary to its narratives. Naturally, this includes facts about Iranian human rights abuses. In July, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that Tehran had launched a new series of PR attacks on Ahmad Shaheed, the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Iran. The Iranian regime routinely attempts to paint Shaheed and other human rights defenders as politically motivated in their criticism of Iran’s record-breaking rate of executions, its censorship, its arbitrary detentions, and so on.
Human rights advocates who are also Iranian citizens may themselves become subject to human rights violations as part of efforts to prevent them from further exposing the same. The International Campaign claimed on Monday that this is the only motive that could explain the recent treatment of prominent human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who has been denied urgent medical care after being returned to prison to finish serving a sentence on charges including propaganda against the state.
Mohammadi has been targeted by the regime for much longer than Jason Rezaian and her life is in immediate danger if she does not receive care from a specialist for the neurological paralysis she is reportedly experiencing. Yet Rezaian is a much more familiar name in the West, owing to his dual American-Iranian citizenship and the advocacy for him that is based in the West.
Because of this, it is possible that his sentencing may increase general awareness of related human rights issues and problems with the Iranian legal system. In April, the International Campaign, among other groups, issued statements expressing hope that the end of negotiations over the Iran nuclear issue would bring some attention back to the issue of Iran’s human rights. But so far, much of the international media remains focused on the question of whether the nuclear agreement will be approved by the US Congress.
Some opponents of that deal worry that the associated sanctions relief will increase Iran’s ability to enact human rights violations both at home and abroad. By contrast, US President Barack Obama has said that he believes it possible that the Iranian regime might moderate from within on the basis of its expanded relations with the international community. But Obama also publicly regarded Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate, and this sentiment has been rejected by Iranian reformists, and even by a number of Rouhani’s former supporters.
In an article suggesting that the nuclear agreement could lead to worse abuses of human rights, particularly against Iranians with LGBT identities, The Tower quoted prominent gay Iranian poet Payam Feili as saying “nothing essential has changed” at the time of Rouhani’s election in 2013.