His imprisonment and trial are travesties of justice and moralism. Answering three questions will lead the reader to understand that Rezaian’s crime is mainly to be at the wrong place at the wrong time:
- Why is Rezaian in jail?
- Why was Rezaian in prison until now?
- Why is Rezaian isolated from help?
These three questions cannot be answered clearly unless one understands that Rezaian’s imprisonment and trial are based less on his actions than to the political conflicts between president Hassan Rouhani and his rivals.
Why is Rezaian in jail?
For 9 months, nobody could answer that question definitively because Rezaian was held in custody without formal charges. Word seeped out at first that he would be charged for “propaganda against the establishment”. As some journalists or bloggers in Iran know, such an accusation is enough to send you to jail for many years. But once the charges were upgraded to espionage, Rezaian suddenly found himself facing a possible death sentence.
What exactly are Rezaian’s alleged crimes? He seems to have passed on “privileged” information about the economy of Iran to the Washington Post and for some reason, this information, although never published, suddenly became “sensitive”. Without knowing it, it seems that Rezaian might have crossed two red lines in Tehran:
- Freedom of Speech: Rezaian might be in jail for simply doing his job as a journalist in a country in which the notion of freedom of the press is not recognized or understood. He reported information that was privy to him without understanding that information is deemed free only if the regime decides it to be.
- Political Ties: Rezaian reportedly had ties with Hassan Rouhani’s nephew, Esmail Samavi, who also acted as the president’s PR managers. Apparently, it was Samavi who supposedly procured the “sensitive information” to Rezaian. Although there is no evidence that Rezaian even had a meeting with Samavi, this did not prevent Rouhani’s enemies to use Rezaian as a means of attacking Rouhani who in turn was calling for a rapprochement with the West.
The final accusation of spying has very strong political overtones to it. Were Rezaian not a pawn in a political rivalry, these charges would probably never have been brought to light. But since this is supposedly classified information from Rouhani’s “inner circle”, the next question the hardliners will ask is whether Rouhani knew of or even authorized the leak or not.
Why was Rezaian in prison until now?
Were the charges against Rezaian clear cut, he would have been charged or released right from the start. Even if he were released on bail, he could at least have lived through the past ten months with much more ease. But that’s not how things work in Tehran which prefers to work on the motto that one is guilty until proven innocent.
But since there are strong political overtones in this case, every day that Rezaian lingered in jail symbolized a constant pressure onRouhani and his government. Not only was Rouhani under internal pressure for fear that the accusations of “espionage” would spill over to hime as well, but Rouhani, and his foreign minister Javad Zarif, also had to suffer international pressure. They were constantly grilled by Western politicians and reporters about the injustice to Rezaian, contrary to Rouhani’s efforts to present to the West a more moderate version of Iran.
Rouhani chose to evade the returning questions regarding Rezaian while Zarif blunderingly answered that “Iran doesn’t jail people for their opinion“. Meanwhile, Rouhani’s political opponents, the “hardliners”, were satisfied: Rouhani was under pressure in a “lose-lose” situation – were he to criticize the Iranian judiciary, he would be under attack by the hardliners, the Larijani brothers and perhaps even the Supreme Leader himself. Lack of criticism of the Iranian judiciary, led to constant attacks from the West.
Why is Rezaian isolated from help?
First of all, the Iranian judiciary does not recognize dual citizenship. Therefore, they are trying Rezaian solely as an Iranian. As such, Rezaian lost his rights to contact the Swiss embassy which acts de facto as the US embassy in Tehran. But Rezaian did not only lose his communications as a US citizen he was purposefully isolated from any contact with the world excpet sporadic communications with his lawyer and family.
His treatment is not so unusual for an Iranian convict specially for those who are arrested on charges with political or activist “crimes”: most of these types of prisoners are isolated as a method of “breaking them” and coercing confessions.
In the case of Rezaian which seems totally divorced from any real crimes, isolating him from his lawyers and family served to put additional pressure on Rouhani by Western powers since the lack of communication with Rezaian led reporters and leaders to constantly question Rouhani and Zarif about Rezaian’s fate.
Jason Rezaian is in jail and on trial for being caught in the crossfire between Rouhani’s efforts at rapprochement with the West and hardliners in Tehran who want to maintain the status quo. Those who want Rezaian’s fate to be part of a nuclear deal with Iran are dreaming: His fate is in the hands of only one person – Khamenei himself.