The last time Ali Rezaian spoke to his brother Jason in Iran, they discussed logistics about an upcoming return trip to the U.S.
That was over six months ago — the day before Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post correspondent in Tehran, was detained by the Iranian government, along with his wife and two others on July 22, 2014.
The 38-year old Californian, now held in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, has been in an Iranian jail longer than any other Western journalist. His Iranian wife and journalist, Yeganeh Salehi, and the others detained with him have been released.
“Because they haven’t given us any information, haven’t told us what the charges were or what the evidence against him was, we don’t know why he was detained,” Ali Rezaian says.
“There were suggestions that too many people visited his house, suggestions that as a journalist he had contact with various different people, expats, living in Iran.”
Jason Rezaian was formally charged in late December, though his family is still unclear precisely what he has been charged with. His case was referred to Iran’s Revolutionary Court earlier this month. The Associated Press, citing a local report,says he will be tried “soon.”
The challenging conditions facing journalists in Iran are widely known. The country ranks near the bottom of the countries when it comes to treatment of journalists — 173 out of 180 — according to Reporters without Borders in its 2014 World Press Freedom Index. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates Iran had 30 journalists under arrest as of December 2014, among the highest totals in the world.
Rezaian also may be a pawn in a broader political clash between the country’s hardliners and moderates whose ambitions are symbolized by President Hassan Rouhani, says Haleh Esfandiari, an Iran expert and director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
Iran is in the midst of negotiations with six Western countries over its nuclear program. The hardliners, including some in the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, oppose concessions to the West. Rezaian’s detention may be to provide leverage and a reminder of their influence, says Esfandiari, who was jailed in solitary confinement in Iran for 105 days without charge.
The hardliners “want to do everything they can to undermine Rouhani and preferably not have a nuclear deal,” she says. “But if there is going to be a (nuclear) deal, I think that will, in a way, strengthen Rouhani’s hand. And he can go to the Supreme Leader (Ali Khamenei) and say ‘look this is really becoming embarrassing.'”
That Rezaian holds dual Iranian and American citizenship adds layers of complexity that may have contributed to his arrest and exacerbates conditions for his release. The Iranian government views him solely as Iranian and has denied him the legal options afforded to Westerners detained in the country, including access to a lawyer. The State Department has communicated with Rezaian’s family. But without diplomatic relations between the two countries, it has few options, Ali Rezaian says.
The State Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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SOURCE: USA Today
Emma S. Hinchliffe and Roger Yu