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Why is Iran holding a U.S. journalist?

With a court ruling that two Al Jazeera journalists who were imprisoned in Egypt for more than a year will be released on bail, Judy Woodruff looks at a new survey of press freedom and abuses around the world. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner speaks with Ali Rezaian, brother of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been jailed in Iran on secret charges since July.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    An Egyptian court ruled today that two Al-Jazeera journalists who had been jailed for more than 400 days will be released on bail.

    Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy still face a retrial. Their colleague, Australian Peter Greste, was freed a few weeks ago.

    Today's ruling is a small victory for press freedom advocates. But a new report released in Washington warns that journalists are increasingly coming under threat.

  • DELPHINE HALGAND, U.S. Director, Reporters Without Borders:

    The indicators compiled by Reporters Without Borders are incontestable. There was a drastic decline in freedom of information in 2014.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The world's largest press freedom group surveyed 180 countries, and fully two-thirds in its estimation saw greater restrictions last year. The list placed Finland first as most free, with much of Europe near the top. The United States was 49th, with the report citing lack of a federal shield law and arrests of reporters in Ferguson, Missouri, among other factors.

    But, worldwide, the principal cause of deterioration was widespread conflict, especially in Syria, in Iraq and Ukraine. Prime culprits were nonstate actors like the Islamic State group that have menaced and killed journalists. Another major cause, restrictions in the name of national security, from the Middle East, through Asia, and even, the group contends, in the United States.

    And while bail was announced for two Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt today, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian remains behind bars in Iran. The dual U.S./Iranian citizen has been held since July on secret charges.

    His brother, Ali, spoke yesterday with chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Ali Rezaian, thank you for joining us.

    ALI REZAIAN, Brother of imprisoned journalist: Thank you so much having me.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    First of all, what kind of shape is your brother in now physically and mentally after six-and-a-half months of detention?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    I think his physical condition is a little bit better than it was before. The infections that he had seem to be better. He's been treated for those over the last couple of months.

    Mentally, it's very difficult for him. He's been there for longer than any other Western detainee. He knows that. He knows that he is being deprived of his rights as an Iranian citizen in their court system. And that's really taking a toll on him.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, is he being interrogated, is he being mistreated, is he being tortured? Your mother saw him a couple of times in December, and then his wife saw him this week, right?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    That's correct.

    So, his wife saw him earlier this week, but hadn't seen him for a month before that. My mother was able to see him twice when she was there at Christmas. He has made it clear to my mom when he spoke to her that he hasn't been tortured and hasn't been physically mistreated.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    What are they doing to him?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    So, when Jason is interrogated, they will take him usually for seven to 10 hours a day, five, six days a week.

    He will be taken to another area usually with a blindfold on. They really have just kind of taken his life apart and started asking questions about that. And that's gone on for over two months.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The authorities say he's going to have this trial soon. Does he know the charges even now? Does he have an attorney finally?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    So, he doesn't have an attorney. We have been trying to hire one for him.

    But we have been having some problems with pressure within the judicial system, where we think a lot of lawyers don't want to take the case. He has been told what his charges are, but I'm not sure that he completely understands them. They have never been made public, and we don't know what they are.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, some pro-government columnists have suggested he and his wife were spies. Did he ever say or do anything about the Iranian government that could give rise to that suspicion that you know of?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    No.

    I mean, I think Jason went there in order to, you know, let people know what Iran is really like, let them know that it's really a complex place that has got a rich culture, that people are not the kind of stereotypical folks that you see on TV.

    And there is nothing in his character, none of the kinds of things that he covered or things that he had access to would lend themselves to being anything but a normal journalist.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, as we know, Iran rates near the rock bottom in terms of press freedom, but it's particularly known to be dangerous for Western journalists who have a dual nationality, Iranian being one part.

    Was he aware of those dangers, that it made him more vulnerable to something like this happening?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    I think so.

    I mean, Jason knew that there was always a tightrope to walk, I think, is the way he put it. But he was very careful about what he did. He was careful about following the rules, you know, that he knew about in his credentialing. And he also probably wasn't aware how much being an American citizen could cause trouble if something like this happened.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    What did your mother tell you about her visit in December, not so much seeing him, but seeing the Iranian officials?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    My mom really came away with the idea that they weren't paying much attention to her, at least at first, and so she had to be very assertive.

    She had to really get in people's faces. She had to make sure that when she was speaking with officials, whether it be the judges or some of the interrogators who she ended up speaking with, that they paid attention to her. Many Iranian mothers or women probably wouldn't have been as assertive or as aggressive as she was with them, but she made sure that her point came across to them while she was there.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Finally, his case has been assigned to a very hard-line judge who is known for taking cases with dissidents and journalists and so on and inflicting incredibly harsh punishments, from lashings to executions.

    Do you have a reasonable expectation that he will get anything resembling a fair trial?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    I think that's hard to say.

    My hope is that there's other parts of the judiciary that look at the situation, that look at the facts behind the case, and it will be dealt with appropriately. I think the other thing is, is that there is a legal process in Iran that is more than a single step. So, there's an appeals process.

    Our hope is that the judge will look at the information and realize that there's just no case there to convict him.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, Ali Rezaian, good luck to you and your family, and thank you.

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    Thank you for having me.

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