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Brother of US Journalist Jailed in Iran Blasts Conviction

  • Mike Richman

The brother of a Washington Post reporter who has been jailed in Iran for more than a year said it is "impossible to understand" why the Iranian government would imprison and convict him.

In an interview Tuesday with VOA's Persian News Network (PNN), Ali Rezaian said Iran's treatment of his brother, Jason Rezaian, is illegal by Iranian and international laws, and by the "commitments that Iran has made to the world."

Ali Rezaian made his remarks one day after Iranian state television reported his brother had been convicted on charges including espionage. The report did not include details of the verdict except that Jason Rezaian and his lawyer are eligible to appeal the conviction within 20 days.

Ali Rezaian said that he and his lawyer have no other details on the conviction. He criticized Iranian authorities for the way it was announced.

"[Jason] found out about the fact that there was a verdict on TV," Ali Rezaian said. "It's cruel. It's not like they don't know he's out there. Why would they do that to him?"

Jason Rezaian, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, began working for The Washington Post in Iran in 2012. He was arrested in July 2014 and held for months without formal charges. Iranian authorities also arrested his wife, Yeganeh "Yegi" Salehi, and two other people. Salehi, also a journalist, has since been released, but Rezaian has remained in jail.

Prisoner swap

Ali Rezaian, who has campaigned for his brother's release, said he would be open to a U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap if that would lead to his freedom. Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government would work to free Jason Razaian and two other Americans from prisons in Iran if the United States released jailed Iranians.

"I’m for anything that lets Jason out and brings him home, so certainly I would be open to that," Ali Rezaian said. "But Jason’s innocent. He shouldn’t be held in jail for something that happened 10,000 miles away from Iran that had nothing to do with him.

"Somebody over here broke a law in the United States, and then they have to be released in order for Iran to follow their laws. I think that that’s absolutely ridiculous, but if that’s what’s necessary to get Jason home – please. Send him home.”

The two other Americans are Amir Heckmati, a former U.S. Marine who was charged with spying, and Saeed Abedini, a convert to Christianity who organized a Bible study group. Another American, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, disappeared in Iran in 2007, but his whereabouts are unclear.

Iran has sought the freedom of 19 of its citizens who are imprisoned in the United States in connection with U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear program.

In isolation

PNN asked Ali Rezaian if he would call his brother's imprisonment a "hostage situation."

"I don't know what to call it," he said. "I know he’s been held for 14 months. It’s three times as long as any foreign journalist has ever been held in Iran. He’s been in isolation the entire time. Now, he has only one roommate that he sees. Whatever you call it, it’s wrong. Jason should be released."

Senior Washington Post editors also have called for the immediate release of Jason Rezaian, who has been in prison in Iran for a little longer than 444 days. U.S. government employees were held for 444 days during the Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979 when a group of Islamist students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and kidnapped 52 Americans during the Iranian revolution.

Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since 1980.