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Isolated in prison for nearly a year, Washington Post reporter starts closed trial in Iran

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian went on trial in a closed Revolutionary Court today, after being locked up for nearly a year in Tehran. In April, Rezaian was reportedly charged with espionage and other crimes, including “propaganda against the establishment.” Judy Woodruff talks to his brother, Ali Rezaian, about the trial.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    After being locked up for nearly a year in a Tehran prison, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian finally had his first day of court this morning. Family members and journalists were not allowed to attend the Tehran Revolutionary Court session. He was accompanied only by his attorney.

    Rezaian, who holds both U.S. and Iranian citizenship, was arrested with his Iranian wife last July. She was released on bail in October. In April, The Washington Post reported that Rezaian was charged with espionage and other crimes, including collaborating with hostile governments and propaganda against the establishment.

    We invited the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations to come on the NewsHour to talk about Jason Rezaian's case. His office didn't respond to our offer.

    We are joined, however, by Jason's brother, Ali Rezaian.

    And we welcome you to the program.

    ALI REZAIAN, Brother of Jason Rezaian: Thank you for having me.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, what do you know when what happened in that courtroom today?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    You know, we know that this was the first day of the court. They were to go in and they would read Jason the charges against him and the information about it. And he would have to respond to those.

    Because it's a secret court, because it's closed, we don't have a lot more information than that. It's illegal to disclose information. But we know the process and we know that the next thing that's going to happen is, the judge will set the second day of trial, and there will be more testimony.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, he does have an attorney, as we mentioned.

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    That's correct.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And this is someone that your family selected, is that right, or helped select?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    Yes. It was kind of a long, hard process. We selected Leila Ahsan to be my sister-in-law's attorney, and because of the complexity of the case, we wanted to have another attorney.

    We were hoping to find somebody who also had a lot of English-language skills as well. But the judge wouldn't allow us to choose some of the people that we wanted. We ended up deciding that we would use Leila for both Jason and Yegi's case.

    I think there's an advantage there, because she does know the case very, very well. She's reviewed it and had a lot of time to know the evidence.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you're in regular contact with her, but you're saying you're — she's limited in what she can say.

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    That's correct. I think it's like some trials here, where they close the court and they won't let information out during the time that it's happening.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, what do you know, other than he's being charged with espionage and what we said about the charges? What do you know about what evidence they're providing?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    You know, I think the best way to sum it up is what Leila said after she reviewed the case file. She said there's absolutely no basis in the evidence, no basis in the facts for any of these charges against Jason.

    He never should have been arrested. He never should have been taken and questioned. But what we do know is, they're using some very small things, usually via e-mail, to come up with these ideas that there was propaganda, that he was saying bad things about the government or that he was reaching out to the United States government.

    When they talk about collaborating with hostile powers, the example there was sending a letter basically trying to get a job with the White House and wanting to help the countries come together.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ah, because the New York Times reported today that there was a letter that Jason sent to the transition team, the Obama transition team…

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    That's exactly right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    … in 2008, offering to be of help improving relations between the two countries.

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    Yes.

    What he said was: "I have been living in Iran for a long time." I have seen the letter.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    It — "I have been living in Iran for a long time. I know a lot of people. I don't like the fact that the two countries where I grew up and where I'm living now and where my father was born are so hostile towards each other, and I would like to help the new administration improve relations. Can I help you?"

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And then — and it was also reported they were using as what they called evidence an application for an American visa for his wife, who, as we said, is Iranian.

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    Yes.

    So, his wife was born in Iran. After they were married, she applied for a visa for a permanent residency here in the United States. That process, you have to go to an embassy.

    Well, there's no embassy for the United States in Iran. So, Iranians process those in other countries. Jason was in touch with the UAE Embassy in order to process that visa. And after it was put in, he asked for it to be expedited, because that's what you do. You want the visa as quick as you can get it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, other than that, I mean, and what you have shared, that's all you know about what they say this case is?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    Those are the primary things that they're talking about.

    You know, they have said that he was investigating or reviewing foreign policy and internal policy of the Islamic Republic. They didn't say that he had access to anything confidential or he tried to, just that he was trying to learn about it, which is what a reporter would do to be able to report.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, you were telling me earlier, Ali Rezaian, that his wife has been able to visit him…

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    That's correct.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    … every week. What is she reporting? How is he doing? How are they treating him?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    You know, it's just this long up-and-down cycle. Sometimes, he's better; sometimes, he's worse.

    I think his health is generally better, but, mentally, it's been very difficult coming up to the trial. I think knowing that there is some progress is helpful. How they have been treating him, I think I would say neglect more than anything else, long periods of time of where they don't interrogate him, or he doesn't have access to any other prisoners. You know, he's just kind of by himself.

    Fortunately, he has access to some books, but he's still locked up.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, your mother was able to visit him, what, in December, is that right…

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    Correct.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    … when she was in Tehran, and she's gone back, but she hasn't been able to see him this time. Is that right?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    She was able to see him. She got to visit with the judge, as well as the Revolutionary Guards, before she did. But she got a one-hour meeting with his wife and with my brother last week, and hasn't seen him since.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    OK.

    Well, let me ask you about the judge, because the reports are that this is a judge who is known for handing down tough sentences.

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What is known about him?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    A lot of these judges, especially in the Revolutionary Court, there's not a lot of information about them. People don't even see their pictures a lot of times.

    But with the judge that is assigned to Jason's case, he's really worked on a lot of the more political cases. He's been assigned things that were political in nature, and has handed down very harsh sentences against people.

    But what I will say is, many of those sentences have been overturned on appeal. There's an appeals process. Our hope is, as they look at the evidence, which they have, they will see that there's no evidence there, there's no basis, and, you know, he will admit that this is something that they want to do.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ali Rezaian, based on how other journalists who have been arrested, charged with espionage or something similar, have been treated, what are your expectations for your brother?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    You know, I think we're fortunate, what's consistent with what he said and what other folks have said is, they're typically not very physical with dual nationals, and that's absolutely what Jason said.

    But I think, mentally, over time, it's really tough on him. He's been neglected. He's been isolated. They play mind games with you all the time, and they have been doing that for 10 months. I'm very scared that it can cause permanent issues for him, you know, fear, anxiety, those kinds of things, as well as depression, which he said: "I'm very, very depressed. I don't belong here."

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    No wonder. One would think so.

    But what about, finally, the U.S. government? Has it been of help? What role has it played in all of this?

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    I think, because of the negotiations, they have had a lot of one-on-one discussions with Iran, which is something that wouldn't have happened in the past.

    But there's only so much they can do, I think, through the diplomatic channel. The Iranians have insisted that it needed to go through a legal process. They delayed that process illegally, by their own standards, as well as international standards, for six or seven months before they even put it into the court.

    And so now at least it's moving along. The State Department has passed along notes, passed along information to the government when we have asked to send letters, as well as kept us informed of what's going on.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, Ali Rezaian, brother of Jason Rezaian, who is being held by Iranian authorities, we can't imagine what this is like for your family. We thank you very much for coming to talk to us.

  • ALI REZAIAN:

    Thank you for covering his story.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thank you.

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