Washington Post reporter sentenced in secret – an Iranian shame

Jason Rezaian

Jailed Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. (Zoeann Murphy/Courtesy The Washington Post and The Associated Press)

The Iranian regime has just piled a travesty on top of an absurdity built on a tragedy.

A government official has announced that The Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian – already unjustly jailed for some 16 months – has now been sentenced to prison following his conviction last month on espionage and other charges.

The unspecified sentencie follows what apparently was a verdict was rendered in a secret process over several months. Rezaian’s lawyer said Sunday neither she nor her client, being held in Teheran’s brutal Evan prison, have even been informed of the verdict, let alone a sentence.

Iranian officials have “sought to depict Mr. Rezaian as a nefarious spy who had used his credentials as a journalist as a ruse to gain insights that would be valuable to the Iranian government’s enemies,” the New York Times reported Oct. 19, and that he was “completely familiar with modern espionage methods.”

Apparently, Iran has an absurd notion of “espionage” and its workings.  Rezaian’s last major story for the Post was a report on baseball gaining interest among some younger Iranians, and earlier he had written about the hint of growing enthusiasm for American pop music. And a charge of communicating with a foreign government may rest on a “charge” that Rezaian once wrote to President Obama.

Rezaian’s circumstance is all the worse because it’s not a singular incident. The Committee to Protect Journalists has reported that “Iran was the second worst jailer of journalists in the world in 2014, after only China” – and it has been among the world’s three worst jailers of the press every year since 2009. Human rights group Freedom House reported this year that “some 35 journalists and dozens of activists and human rights lawyers remained behind bars” in 2015, and “new arrests and prison sentences for media workers and online activists were reported throughout the year.”

Rezaian, who has both U.S. and Iranian citizenship, spent most of his life in the United States, in Marin County, California. He has been on assignment for the Post in Iran since 2012. Post editors have said much of his reporting was about people and life in Iran.

According to various news accounts, Iranian security police invaded Rezaian’s home in July 2014 and arrested him with no warning. For a number of months, he was held in solitary confinement with inadequate medical care and no access to a lawyer. He has been jailed for far longer than any other Western journalist, to date.

“Every day that Jason is in prison is an injustice. He has done nothing wrong,” Douglas Jehl, the Post’s foreign editor, told the Associated Press on Sunday. “Even after keeping Jason in prison 487 days so far, Iran has produced no evidence of wrongdoing. His trial and sentence are a sham, and he should be released immediately.”

Bogus, unspecified criminal charges. Secretive, shadowy court proceedings where no real evidence is presented. A backhanded and cowardly method of announcing a verdict and sentencing. All are examples of judicial misconduct and political retribution that should shame a once-revolutionary government that purports to be ready to rejoin the world community of nations after years of economic embargos and earned disrespect on the global stage.

It is a tragedy to be jailed, tried or imprisoned on the basis of a sham, a travesty and an absurdity.  Free Jason Rezaian. Respect the role of a free press.

Gene Policinski is chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Institute’s First Amendment Center. He can be reached at gpolicinski@newseum.org. Follow him on Twitter: @genefac

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