WaPo reporter Jason Rezaian has been in an Iranian prison for the last seven months, isolated from his family and lawyers for a crime that is still unknown. The buzz from Tehran is that Rezaian has finally signed a “confession” to being a “spy” although the content and the veracity of this “confession” are murky and Rezaian is still not formally accused of anything.
Unfortunately for Rezaian, there is no good news: there is only bad news and worst news.
Bad News for Rezaian – Politics
Hardliner MP Hamid Rasaei is not only accusing Rezaian of being a “spy”, he is accusing Rouhani, or someone in Rouhani’s administration, of “supporting” Rezaian in his spying activities. The details of Rezaian’s “spying” activities are undetailed but his motive for “spying”, according to Rasaei, is to “bring about more pressure on various Iranian industries“.
Rouhani or someone close to him are supposed to have helped Rezaian to get access to classified and vital information although right up to his imprisonment none of Rezaian’s articles contain any sensitive information of any kind. Most of his articles “focused on the lives of ordinary Iranians“.
It doesn’t really matter whether the spying accusations are true or false since Rasaei is a staunch opponent of Rouhani’s moderate foreign policy and is fighting hard to stop any form of nuclear deal. Following Zarif’s mid-day walk with Kerry in Geneva, Rasaei wrote in his weekly newspaper: “every one of Zarif’s steps destroyed 100 kilograms of enriched uranium.” The response from Tehran to his article was surprisingly swift: Rasaei’s weekly was banned for going “against the regime’s nuclear policy” but Rasaei’s loud objections are still to be heard in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament.
Worst News for Rezaian – Human Rights
The worst news is that the judge assigned to Rezaian’s case is also a staunch hardliner who might be sympathetic to Rasaei’s cause. Abolghassem Salavati, known as the “hanging judge” or “the judge of death”, has earned a reputation of favoring executions in cases concerning journalists and political activists. Salavati presided over hundreds of cases following the 2009 Green uprising, ruling in most cases against the defendants.
With Salavati as judge, if Rezaian does go to trial for spying, his chances of getting out of Iran soon (or at all) are slim. In an earlier case, he sent two doctors working on a HIV campaign to jail with no evidence except the indictment by the intelligence ministry and the doctors’ participation in a seminar by an NGO in Washington.
Salavati sentenced a Canadian-Iranian blogger to 20 years in jail based mostly on a letter of recommendation by a Columbian University faculty member which “demonstrated problematic connections with a hostile state.”
Furthermore, following some of his more dubious sentences, the EU has placed Salavati under sanctions since 2011 – he is not allowed to enter a European country – for “gross human rights violations“.
So, whether Rezaian did or did not spy, his cause seems helpless. Not only is he a pawn in a political game between a hardliner and Rouhani, his judge is a trigger-happy hardliner who will be only too happy to either send him to rot in jail for a long time or, more likely, to the gallows.