Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist imprisoned in Iran for more than a year, has been released along with three other dual-nationality prisoners as Tehran prepares to implement a historic nuclear agreement with western leaders.
Ahead of senior diplomats announcing the lifting of sanctions on Iran later on Saturday, Tehran’s prosecutor said four dual nationals had been released. The move is believed to be part of a prisoner swap with the US.
The closed-door trial of Rezaian began in May when he appeared before a hardline judge on charges of espionage, collecting confidential information and spreading propaganda against the Islamic republic.
The 39-year-old, who holds Iranian and American citizenship, was arrested at his home in Tehran in July 2014 along with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, also a journalist, and two friends, an Iranian-American couple. The friends were released shortly after their arrest, while Salehi was released on bail in October and is facing a separate trial.
The Post reporter was held on unspecified charges for more than seven months before appearing in court. He was kept incommunicado for most of his time in jail, with little access to his lawyers and family.
The Mehr news agency said Rezaian was among the released prisoners. “Based on the recent decisions made by the national security council and also based on our ruling system’s national interests, four imprisoned dual nationals were released today,” said senior judiciary official Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, according to Mehr.
Two of the other three prisoners are believed to be former marine Amir Hekmati and pastor Saeed Abedini. Hekmati was jailed in 2011.
Iran does not recognise dual citizenship and treated Rezaian as an Iranian. Intelligence authorities in the country have a deep suspicion of dual citizens and have arrested a number in recent years.
It also has a history of jailing journalists working for the foreign press. Those previously jailed in Iran include Maziar Bahari, whose ordeal in prison was the subject of Rosewater, a film by the US comedian Jon Stewart.
The Post has repeatedly accused Iran of imposing “Kafkaesque restrictions” on the Rezaian case. It was presided over by Abolghassem Salavati, a judge who is notorious for issuing heavy sentences. Local and foreign media had been denied access to the trial.
The Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron, described the trial as “the shameful acts of injustice” facing his reporter and said “there is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it”.
Many analysts believe Rezaian was caught up in a high-level feud between the administration of President Hassan Rouhani and its internal opponents.
The reporter had been working in Iran with appropriate accreditation. His prolonged detention brought widespread international condemnation and much embarrassment for Rouhani, who has been trying to improve relations with the west, especialy since the landmark nuclear agreement struck in July. After his election victory in 2013, the Post was the first international newspaper approached by Rouhani to publish an opinion piece in which he set out his global vision. Nevertheless, he remained largely quiet in defence of Rezaian.
Mini profile: Jason Rezaian
Rezaian was born in Marin County, north of the San Francisco Bay area, three years before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. His mother, Mary, is American and his late father, Taghi, an Iranian who had emigrated to the US two decades before the reporter’s birth.
For five months he was interrogated and held without charges. Jason and his family were prohibited from hiring a lawyer defend him for 9 months. And once engaged, his attorney was allowed only one pre-trial meeting with Jason.
Throughout this time he has been held in solitary confinement or in extreme isolation. He has suffered through many untreated health issues and is severely depressed.
Jason Rezaian is a graduate of The New School's Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts. Endangered Scholars Worldwide, which traces its roots back to the founding of the New School for Social Research with the rescuing of threatened scholars from Nazi Europe, sees Jason as one of our own community. READ MORE
Rezaian was accredited as a journalist by Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance and had permission to operate in the country. He was always careful not to cross the red lines, his family have said, and his last article before being arrested was about baseball in Iran, although he had travelled to Vienna to cover the Iranian nuclear negotiations several months before that.