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Jailed journalist’s brother on whether U.S. should consider prisoner swap

WASHINGTON — The brother of Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist detained in Iran and convicted in secret, described his brother’s imprisonment as “cruel and inhumane” Tuesday and called on the U.S. government to take “any appropriate actions” to win his freedom.

Ali Rezaian told The Associated Press in an interview in Washington that the charges were “trumped up” and there was no evidence that his brother tried to access security information.

Iran’s judiciary spokesman confirmed the verdict on state TV Sunday, saying the ruling is eligible for appeal within 20 days, but gave no indication of what punishment the 39-year-old Iranian-American journalist could face. Rezaian has been detained in Iran for 14 months on charges including espionage. He reportedly faces up to 20 years in prison.

Ali Rezaian said there was no reason for his brother to be in prison, and that the family has received no information about the verdict.

“I would call it unjust, I would call it cruel and inhumane, I would say Jason’s lost 14 months of his life, half of his marriage, to being held without any evidence on charges that are completely trumped up,” Rezaian said.

Jason Rezaian, the Post’s Tehran bureau chief since 2012, grew up in Marin County, California, and spent most of his life in the United States. He holds both American and Iranian citizenship. He was detained with his wife, also a journalist, and two photojournalists on July 22, 2014. All were later released except Rezaian.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday the U.S. government has not heard of Rezaian’s conviction “through official channels” and that there has been no formal announcement about it. He slammed the proceedings against Rezaian and other U.S. citizens detained in Iran as a “sham process.”

Rezaian’s incarceration and trial played out against the backdrop of negotiations between Iran and five world powers, including the U.S., that resulted in an agreement for Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that “not a meeting went by when we did not raise the issue of our citizens being held in Iran” during the nuclear talks. But he defended the U.S. strategy of not linking their fate to the nuclear negotiations and said that the families knew why it was important to not to hold the agreement hostage. He said that to have done so could have resulted in nothing happening on either front.

“I think it was the right strategy to pursue,” Kerry said in Boston.

Kerry said the administration is tracking extremely closely the news coming out of Iran about Rezaian and called on Iran to release the detained Americans, drop all the charges, and allow them to be reunited with their families.

American and Iranian officials have said they discussed Rezaian’s detention and that of two other Americans, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan, and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho, during the nuclear talks. The U.S. also says it has asked for the Iranian government’s assistance in finding former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission.

Asked about the possibility, aired by Iranian officials, that Rezaian could be swapped for Iranian prisoners in the U.S., his brother Ali said: “His fate shouldn’t be tied to anybody else, but that being said if that’s what needs to happen then I think the (U.S.) government should take any appropriate actions to try and get him out.”

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