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Is Iran leveraging Jason Rezaian for a prisoner swap?

Jason Rezaian was convicted by an Iranian court, but little else is known about the ruling or the fate of the Washington Post journalist who has been held for over a year on espionage and other charges. Jeffrey Brown learns more from Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl.

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    Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian is spending his 447th night in a jail in Iran tonight. News that an Iranian court convicted the journalist came yesterday, but little else is known about the ruling or his fate.

    Jeffrey Brown has more.


    Iran's judiciary announced that an appeal could be filed, but gave no specifics on the details of the ruling. Rezaian was tried on espionage and other charges.

    We reached out to Iran's representative at the United Nations to join us. He didn't accept our invitation.

    For its part, The Washington Post is calling the ruling — quote — "an outrageous injustice."

    And joining me now is the newspaper's foreign editor, Douglas Jehl.

    Doug Jehl, thanks for joining us.

    Do we even know at this point what Jason Rezaian has been convicted of or what sentence he might face?

  • DOUGLAS JEHL, Foreign Editor, The Washington Post:

    We know none of that.

    We know only that he has been convicted, but on what charges, what penalty, and indeed, what basis Iran claims to offer for convicting Jason of these crimes, it has never been stated.


    And is there any way of knowing whether he himself has — whether he knows any of this or knows the situation?


    Well, his mother, his wife and his attorney went to the court today in Tehran, to the Revolutionary Court, to seek clarity. And, cruelly, they were turned away. They were told that the translator wasn't available, that they could be given no further information at this time.

    Our presumption is that Jason doesn't know.


    Now, even though this is playing out in the court, your supposition all along has been that this is really, really playing out in the political sphere, correct? Explain what you think is going on.


    I think that's right.

    I think this has played out very, very slowly in the Iranian courts for 15 months now, but it's clear that ultimately the decision-makers are going to be Iran's senior leadership. It's the senior leaders who have the power to overturn a decision in court. They have the power to pardon someone like Jason.

    They have the power to bring him home. And in recent weeks, we have seen very strong signals from Iran's president, Rouhani, and others of what they want. They have made clear they're willing to move toward freeing Jason and other Americans if the United States is willing to free Iranians held in American prisons in return.


    Well, so what has kept that from happening?


    The United States hasn't really responded to those overtures from Iran, at least not in public. We don't know if there has been further discussion behind closed doors.

    One thing that has prevented it from happening, though, is that, until now, the matter has remained in the courts. If there is any glimmer of hope from today's announcement, as outrageous and cruel as it was, it may be that this sham of a judicial process is nearing its end and that the political steps are about to begin.


    What about tensions in Iran, in which hard-liners, conservatives are perhaps sending a message to Rouhani and so-called moderates to — in the context, of course, of the recent nuclear deal and other things?


    I think it is clear that Jason Rezaian, an innocent journalist, has been caught up in a much, much larger struggle inside Iran.

    And I think it's also clear that President Rouhani has limited authority for what happens inside Iran. I think he has made clear he would like to have seen Jason released a long time ago. The fact that that hasn't happened suggests that it is other forces, the security services in particular, who have at least equal power here.


    You at this point do not know anything about a potential prisoner swap?


    We do not. I do not.

    All I know is that — is what we have heard publicly from Iranian officials for weeks now, referring to as many as 19 Iranians held in American jails, and suggesting that, while they say they don't like the word exchange, that there could be a progress toward the release of Americans if there is progress toward the release of Iranians held here.


    Douglas Jehl of The Washington Post, thank you so much.


    Thank you.

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