News / Middle East

    Column: Free Jason Rezaian, Other Iranian American Detainees

    A screenshot of Jason Rezaian's Twitter page.
    A screenshot of Jason Rezaian's Twitter page.

    All Iranian Americans who travel to Iran know they face a certain amount of risk.

    Obliged to use Iranian passports instead of obtaining visas like other Americans, Iranian Americans can easily be barred from leaving the country and become pawns in the three-decade-old U.S.-Iran confrontation as well as in Iran’s complicated domestic political battles.

    The latest such pawn appears to be Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian.

    Last week Rezaian, his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the National newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates, and two other dual nationals were detained by Iranian authorities.

     Apart from acknowledging that detention, Iranian officials have given no information about the reason for the arrests.

    Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told a Capitol Hill briefing on Monday that there was still no official judiciary record of the detentions, a sign that shadowy intelligence officials may be conducting a fishing expedition to try to develop a case against Rezaian and the others.

    The timing of the arrests – just after the end of the latest round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) – suggests that hard-line opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are looking for ways to impede a deal, or to keep Iranian aspirations for greater civil liberties and reconciliation with the U.S. to a minimum in the event an agreement is reached.

    “Our evaluation is that the hardliners are terrified of a more open press and increased political and social freedoms, because they fear once they allow any such opening their tight control of domestic affairs will quickly unravel and they will be challenged on many fronts,” Ghaemi said.

    Dual nationals have frequently become ensnared in such domestic fights.

    Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian who reported for Newsweek from Iran, was jailed from June 2009 to October of that year in the aftermath of disputed presidential elections.

    Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was kept from leaving Iran after visiting her mother in December 2006 when her passport and other belongings were stolen by plainclothes security agents on the way to the airport.

    Later thrown into Evin prison and kept there for four months, Esfandiari appears to have served several purposes for elements of the Iranian government.

    One was to intimidate Iranians advocating better relations with the United States. Another was to retaliate for the arrest of several officers of the Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guards by U.S. authorities in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil. 

    The officers were seized and held by U.S. authorities for more than two years in the aftermath of a deadly assault on U.S. troops in Karbala by Iran-backed Iraqi militia members.

    While Iranian authorities did not secure their release in return for Esfandiari, they did let her go following an international outcry about her detention and to avoid more bad publicity before then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to the UN General Assembly in September 2007.

    There should be a similar outcry now about Rezaian, an amiable 38-year-old from California who has a reputation for fairness and accuracy and who had just finished covering the latest round of Iran nuclear talks in Vienna.

    Testifying Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman called on the Iranian government to “immediately release Mr. Rezaian and the other three individuals as soon as possible.” She added that there was “absolutely no reason” for the journalist’s arrest.

    Sherman also urged Iran to release two other dual nationals held by the regime for years, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini, and to help locate another American, Robert Levinson, who disappeared on Iran’s Kish island in 2007.

    Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who was born in the U.S. to Iranian parents, was arrested three years ago while visiting relatives in Iran for the first time, coerced to confess to being a spy and sentenced to death.

    The sentence was overturned but Hekmati was reportedly convicted instead of “practical collaboration with the U.S. government” and handed a 10-year term.

    Abedini fell afoul of the Iranian government because he is a Christian convert from Islam and a pastor.

    From 2000 to 2005, he held prayer services in private homes in Iran – something Farsi-speaking Christians are obliged to do because they are often barred from Christian churches in Iran, which are reserved for the Armenian and Assyrian ethnic minorities, according to Tiffany Barrans, the international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice.

    Barrans, who also participated in Monday’s briefing on Capitol Hill, said that Abedini had stopped holding such services and instead – with the encouragement of Iranian authorities – turned to humanitarian work.

    He was in Iran to continue efforts to build a non-sectarian orphanage in the city of Rasht when he was taken off a bus and arrested two years ago, Barrans said. Even though the evidence against him was old, he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in jail. 

    “He was not there as a missionary but someone who wanted to care for the people of Iran,” Barrans said.

    There is an old saying that no good deed goes unpunished. Many of the dual nationals arrested in Iran have been proponents of better US-Iran relations and have actively contributed to trying to ease the 35-year-old hostility between the two countries.

    Now, when the prospects for progress look more promising than they have in many years, it is sad and ultimately self-defeating that portions of the Iranian government – with the evident acquiescence of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – continue the practice of taking dual nationals as political hostages.

    If and when diplomatic relations are restored, Iranian Americans can significantly contribute to Iran’s economic resurgence.

    Meanwhile, for humanitarian reasons alone these individuals should be freed to return to the United States before Rouhani comes here again for the annual UN General Assembly meeting, if not sooner.


    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Norma Lee from: New York
    August 05, 2014 1:17 AM
    May I add that our own Congress and certain "hard-line" supporters are also at fault, by providing road blocks as Rouhani & Zarif attempt to navigate through the nuclear issues,.thus emboldening the hard-liners in Iran.I lead custom cultural tours to Iran and was there during the last primary.Khameni, by disallowing Rafsanjani thus not dividing the moderate vores, virtually gave the election to Rouhani. I don't believe he lives in an Ivory Minaret and realizes the pulse of the people..(or at least the younger Mullahs around him)realized a run-off could lead to the demonstrations after the last election.

    by: Ajax Lessome from: US
    July 30, 2014 7:54 PM
    Iran is the main sponsor and one of the main supporters of Hamas which have fired over 1,600 rockets into Israel over the past few days.
    Iran has built up terror proxies along Israel’s borders. Hezbollah has100,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel, and it de facto controls Lebanon. In Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are responsible for ensuring the survival Assad's regime, as well as the continued slaughter of innocent civilians.

    An Iran that remains in possession of nuclear capabilities will threaten the world not just with nuclear weapons but also through the terror proxies it supports and finances across the globe. The latest conflict in the Gaza Strip is just one example of what the world will continue to see if Iran, the real culprit, is not stopped for good.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora