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Iran Releases Jason Rezaian

January 16, 2016
Natasha Schmidt
7 min read
Iran Releases Jason Rezaian
Iran Releases Jason Rezaian

The Iranian judiciary released Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian on January 16, along with three other dual US-Iranian nationals. 

Judiciary officials announced the release of four US prisoners. Initially they declined to name them, but a few hours after the announcement they confirmed that they had released Jason Rezaian, former marine Amir Hekmati, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari.

The release took place on the same day that the nuclear deal reached between Iran and world powers came into effect. 

The four were released as part of a prisoner exchange between Iran and the United States. The US released seven Iranian-Americans who were jailed for violating sanctions regulations. 

Rezaian was arrested on July 22, 2014 with his wife, Iranian journalist Yeganeh Salehi. Despite international pressure and condemnation regarding his arrest, details of his charges only emerged several months later.

Rezaian attended three hearings, on July 13 — just as nuclear talks were wrapping up in Vienna — June 8 and May 26. 

Following the July hearing, executive editor of the Washington Post Martin Baron issued a statement, calling for the immediate release of Rezaian, who holds dual Iranian-US citizenship.

In the May trial, a representative for the prosecution asked Rezaian to respond to the charges against him. The defense was presented to Judge Salavati, who presides over Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, after it was translated. 

According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, trials for Rezaian's wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and a photojournalist,  also got underway in May. None of the trials were open to the public.

Authorities formally charged Rezaian with espionage and three further offences, all of them serious, on April 20. He met with his lawyer, Leilah Ahsan, for the first time since his arrest on the same day. 

On January 14, 2015, Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said Rezaian had been charged and would be tried in a Revolutionary Court. At the time, authorities did not outline the charges against him or say when the trial would begin. Tehran’s Attorney-General Abbas Jafari said investigations had been completed. Rezaian spent close to five months in solitary confinement.

Tehran’s attorney general also reported that Rezaian’s mother had traveled to Iran and met the magistrate in charge of her son’s case. 

In an exclusive interview with EuroNews in November 2014, Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary of the Iranian Judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights, said that Rezaian would soon been pardoned and released. Regarding the charges against him and the case’s progress, he told the news site, “I’m not in a position to judge, I’m just reporting that security officials filed charges against him and that he was involved in activities that went beyond journalism.” When pressed for clarity, he added that they were “activities that breach the security of the state.”

In May, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told US journalist and talkshow host Charlie Rose that Iran did not jail journalists, leading to a rush of criticism on social media and throughout the international journalism community.



Name: Jason Rezaian

Born: 1976

Occupation: The Washington Post correspondent in Tehran since 2012.

Charges: Espionage, collaborating with hostile governments, propaganda against the regime, and “collecting information about internal and foreign policy and providing them to individuals with malicious intent.”

Jason Rezaian was arrested in July 2014 with his wife, Iranian journalist Yeganeh Salehi. Despite international pressure and condemnation regarding his arrest, the Islamic authorities provided scarce information on the charges against him. Details of his charges only emerged several months after his arrest.

Reporting in Iran “is like walking a tightrope,” Jason Rezaian told his friends a month before he was arrested. “When you fall down, it is over.”

Born in California to an Iranian father and American mother, Rezaian began his career in journalism at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he wrote a blog entitled “Inside Iran.” Islamic Republic officials later granted him a permit to work in Tehran as a Washington Post correspondent.

Reports indicate that Rezaian was on good terms with President Rouhani and his cabinet. He and his wife Yeganeh Salehi, a reporter for the Dubai-based journal The National, accompanied Rouhani when he traveled abroad on a number of occasions, publishing articles about the trips afterwards.

On July 22, 2014 security forces raided their house, confiscated Rezaian’s notebooks and laptop and arrested him and his wife. Although it was initially reported that two guests were also arrested at Rezaian and Salehi’s residence at the same time, it later emerged that this was not the case. However, two other journalists, an Iranian-American photographer and her husband, were arrested on the same date. Their names are not known.

“Jason Rezaian knew he was being watched,” the New York Times reported on August 7, 2014. “A man on a motorcycle had been following him and his wife for weeks, his colleagues said. The tail was so blatant that Mr. Rezaian...had even managed to take a picture of the license plate.”

Salehi was released on October 6, 2014. The two unnamed journalists arrested on the same date have been released on bail but no additional information has been made available.

On September 23,2014, IranWire reported that the Revolutionary Guards' Intelligence Unit obtained a forced confession from Jason Rezaian under duress. In a brief conversation, an Iranian security official who withheld his name due to the sensitivity of the case told IranWire that the Guards pushed Rezaian to confess in order to “influence Iran's nuclear negotiations with Western powers, including the United States.”

A hardliner site reported: “After Jason Rezaian was confronted with videos and evidence from intelligence agencies, he admitted he was connected to Western intelligence agencies. He and his wife now live in a safe house in Tehran and enjoy the pool and their favorite foods.”

Sources told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that the “top-ranking officials in the Iranian executive, legislative, and judicial branches were uninformed regarding the details of the arrests. Iran’s Prosecutor General and spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, told reporters on July 25, 2014 that he had not been informed of the arrests. “I have no information about this case. You must give me time to clarify everything,” he stated in a report published by Fars News Agency.

While In New York during September 2014's United Nations General Assembly meeting, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that he and President Rouhani had tried hard to ensure the couple were well treated, adding that Rezaian faces serious allegations. He did not elaborate on the nature of these allegations.

“The latest interference with the press may well be intended to embarrass [President Rouhani],” wrote Laura Secor in the New Yorker on August 15, 2014. “Rouhani’s pursuit of a nuclear accord with six world powers faces fierce opposition from hardliners within the Iranian establishment who would be all too happy to see him fail. Now the president is forced to explain to international interlocutors exactly why his country has abducted a law-abiding Washington Post correspondent on what are recognizably trumped-up charges. Don’t think that Rouhani is in charge, his opponents might be saying to foreign powers; in the end you will need to deal with us...The attacks on domestic journalists serve a similar purpose at home, signaling to Iranians the limits of Rouhani’s reach and the persistence of the security state.”

The official IranWire spoke with did not elaborate on Rezaian's confession, how it was intended to be used or whether it would be broadcast. Many Iranian journalists that have been imprisoned and then released have said they were forced to confess on camera to a number of charges, including espionage, “acting against the holy Islamic Republic,” and “endangering national security.” Many Revolutionary Guard commanders, assigned by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have expressed their dissatisfaction with President Hassan Rouhani’s government’s approach to negotiations with the West.

The official IranWire spoke with confirmed a caretaker was killed during Rezaian's arrest. He worked at the building where the two unnamed arrested journalists lived and not at Rezaian and Salehi’s residence, as previously reported. The caretaker’s family has reportedly been pressured not to talk to the media.

Rezaian was reportedly held in Ward 2-A of Evin Prison. On October 30, 2014, Rezaian’s 100th day of imprisonment, his family released an online statement calling for Iranian authorities to release him. The family also referred to Rezaian’s arrest as a “farce”.  A US State Department spokesperson called for his release on the same day.

According to Human Rights Watch and other sources, authorities told the journalist on November 18,2014 that his case was still being investigated and that he would continue to be held in Evin Prison. Rezaian's brother confirmed on December 3 that the family had been informed that the journalist’s detention would be extended. It is not known why there was a delay between the decision being reached by the judiciary and the family being informed.

Having visited her son in prison last December, Rezaian’s mother said he had lost a lot of weight and was physically weak. According to Fars News Agency, she has visited him at least twice since his incarceration. 


For more information, visit Journalism is Not a Crime, a comprehensive database of jailed journalists in Iran that is regularly updated. 

Please contact [email protected] with comments, updates or further information about cases. 



Iran Releases Jason Rezaian and Amir Hekmati

January 16, 2016
Natasha Schmidt
1 min read
Iran Releases Jason Rezaian and Amir Hekmati