Who Is Jason Rezaian? 'The Washington Post' Journalist Spent Over 500 Days In Prison On Suspect Charges
After more than 500 days behind bars in Tehran, reporter Jason Rezaian was released from Iranian prison Saturday in an 11-prisoner exchange between Iran and the United States. Rezaian, an Iranian-American and Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post, was convicted of espionage and promoting propaganda in October 2015, nearly 15 months after he was taken into custody and sent to Iran's notorious Evin Prison. Both Rezaian and Washington Post editors have maintained his innocence, with Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron previously calling Rezaian's lengthy imprisonment and subsequent conviction "contemptible" and "an outrageous injustice."
Rezaian was among four U.S. citizens released from Iranian prison Saturday. The other three political prisoners are Amir Hekmat, Saeed Abedini, and Nosratollah Khosrawi Roudsari, according to the FARS News Agency in Iran and confirmed by the Washington Post. Abedini is a high-profile Christian pastor — and convert from Islam to Christianity — who was imprisoned in July 2012 for organizing home churches. In exchange for the four American citizens, the United States government plans to free seven Iranian prisoners.
A dual Iranian-American citizen, 39-year-old Rezaian, who was born in California, lived and worked as a journalist in Iran since 2008. After filing stories for The San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, and GlobalPost as a freelancer, he took over as the Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief in 2012. According to his Washington Post author page, his last big story for the newspaper was "about the spark of enthusiasm for baseball in Iran."
Rezaian's harrowing ordeal began July 22, 2014, when Iranian authorities raided the apartment he shared with his wife, the journalist Yeganeh Salehi, who's an Iranian citizen. Both Rezaian and Salehi were taken into custody, but Salehi was released a few months later. Rezaian, meanwhile, was placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, located north of Tehran, without contact with his family or colleagues.
Rezaian did not receive his first court proceeding until December 2014 — five months after he was taken into custody. At the closed-door hearing, he was denied bail and legal representation, according to the Washington Post. These sort of standards and legal proceedings became common during Rezaian's imprisonment, with his May 2015 trial taking place out of the eyes of the public.
From the very beginning, Rezaian's imprisonment seemed dubious and corrupt. Iranian officials would not tell the United States government why they were detaining Rezaian, claiming they didn't to provide any information because Rezaian was also an Iranian citizen. It wasn't until April 2015, one month before his trial was slated to begin, that Rezaian's charges were made public by his lawyer, Leila Ahsan: espionage; collecting and disseminating information about foreign policies; collaborating with "hostile" governments; and creating propaganda against Iran.
Time and again, Rezaian's supporters, including Baron of the Washington Post, have claimed that the Iranian government had no evidence of misconduct against Rezaian, an accredited journalist. "Iran has behaved unconscionably throughout this case, but never more so than with this indefensible decision by a Revolutionary Court to convict an innocent journalist of serious crimes after a proceeding that unfolded in secret, with no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing," Baron said in a statement in October 2015.
Not much is known about Rezaian's actual trial, as all the hearings were conducted behind closed doors and even his mother was barred from attending. Ahsan, the journalist's lawyer, was also forbidden from speaking to the media about what occurred inside the courtroom. Several media reports gathered that the Iranian government only had this piece of evidence against Rezaian: a letter he sent to then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008, in which the Iranian government alleged Rezaian claimed he could serve as an expert on Iran. The Washington Post quickly debunked this letter. Other Iranian officials over the last year alleged to the media that Rezaian may have been gathering intelligence and working as an operative — of course, that has never been proven.
Rezaian is expected to be flown back to the United States shortly. It's unclear at this time if he will return to Iran and to his old job as Tehran bureau chief.