The trial of Jason Rezaian, the jailed Washington Post corespondent, got underway in Tehran today, May 26, behind closed doors.
The trial, which is likely to last for two to three days, took place at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court. Judge Abolghasem Salavati, who has handled a number of key security and political cases and is well known for handing down harsh sentences, presided over the court.
Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) confirmed that Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ehsan, was present at the hearing’s first session. The indictment, which includes a charge of espionage, was read out before the court.
Jason Rezaian was arrested along with his wife, journalist Yeganeh Salehi, in July 2014. Authorities released Salehi on bail in early October.
According to Mehr news agency, Judge Salavati levelled two charges against Rezaian: (1) Spying through gathering classified information and making them available to a hostile government and (2) propaganda against the regime.
The family of Jason Rezaian and the directors of Washington Post have consistently denied the charges against the journalist.
Mehr news agency reported that Judge Salavati asked Rezaian a series of questions, including details about his contacts at the US consulate in Dubai. Dismissing the accusations against him, Rezaian told the court, “I am only a reporter. All my actions have been as a reporter and they have been legal.”
Rezaian also rejected the validity of the evidence against him. In response, Judge Salavati said, “In another session, each piece of evidence will be presented to the defendant one by one, and at length. They will be reviewed separately and the accused will be asked questions about each point.”
The judged then read out a translation of Jason Rezaian’s letter to US president Barack Obama, in which the defendant mentioned his own record and had claimed, “In Iran, I am in contact with [people], from simple workers to influential mullahs.” He also referred to his network of contacts in Iran. Then the judge asked him about his relations with Lara Setrakian, an Armenian-American journalist who reports on the Middle East and has worked with US media including ABC and Bloomberg. “We are both reporters and this is our relationship,” replied Rezaian, Mehr news agency reported.
Judge Salavati then went on to ask about a private meeting between Lara Setrakian and President Obama after which, according to the judge, she asked Rezaian to “send her all news and predictions about Iran, whatever he knows about the character of candidates of last year’s presidential elections and a summary of the political, economic and social situation in Iran so that she could make them available to Obama.”
Rezaian denied the charge but the judge said he held firm and reliable evidence that supported the accusation.
The court appointed a translator for Rezaian, according to Mehr news agency, which described the journalist as looking “tidy” and able to answer the judge’s questions “in perfect physical and mental health.”
In an interview today with BBC Persian-language TV, Jason Rezaian’s brother Ali Rezaian said that for the past 10 months, Jason had been kept in a cell block with only one other prisoner, had been very isolated, and had met his lawyer only once, after a period of nine months. He also reported that their mother, who travelled to Iran two weeks ago, was allowed to visit Rezaian in prison last week.
Mehr news agency reported that in the first session today, Rezaian’s attorney did not present a defense case. However, the lawyer, Leila Ehsan, did tell the press that, after listening to the assistant prosecutor’s statements and discovering that all charges against the defendant were based on supposed evidence, she would revise her defense case substantially. "She surprised reporters by not leaving through the door specified for the public,” Mehr reported.
Before the court session began, Ali Rezaian told Reuters that he hoped the Iranian judiciary would agree to allow Rezaian’s mother and wife to attend the hearing. His employers, the Washington Post, also requested that a senior editor at the newspaper be allowed in the court. Neither request was granted.
In reaction to the trial, Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the United States National Security Council, said, “We want a public and transparent trial.”
In recent months, US officials, including President Obama, have called for the release of Jason Rezaian.
The trial continues.