On April 12 the Fars News Agency, an outlet close to Iran’s security and intelligence apparatus, published an attack piece titled “New Revelations About Jason Rezaian’s Relationship with the CIA.” After touching on brief details of Rezaian’s legal case, including his upcoming trial before a Tehran revolutionary court on charges of violating Iran’s national security, the article claimed to shed light on the “real” Jason Rezaian.
Iranian security officials arrested Rezaian, a dual Iranian-American national and Washington Post reporter based in Tehran, in July 2014. He is currently believed to be held in a section of the city’s Evin prison that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards control.
In what reads alternately like a tabloid expose and an indictment typical of the Tehran prosecutor’s office, Fars offers a glimpse into the supposed life of the “journalist-spy.” It accuses Rezaian of consorting with exiled Iranian journalists, activists, and other “foot soldiers” for the US Congress, Treasury Department, and the CIA. The article claims that Rezaian committed espionage by way of “selling” sensitive information to the US intelligence community regarding Iran’s efforts to circumvent international sanctions imposed in connection with its nuclear program.
Fars provides no hard facts to back up its fanciful allegations. It quotes Rezaian, in what could be language taken from a confession statement, describing his allegedly close relationship with Omid Memarian, a US-based Iranian journalist who last saw Rezaian at Rezaian’s father’s funeral in California in 2011. Memarian, whom authorities prosecuted on similar charges related to his journalism and blogging activities more than 10 years ago, told the Washington Post: “Yes, I went to his father’s funeral. That’s what normal people do.”
Sadly, the serious violations of due process that have plagued Rezaian’s case are neither unique nor untypical. Iran remains today one of the largest prisons in the world for journalists and social media activists, with at least 46 behind bars as of early April according to Reporters Without Borders. The Fars piece comes almost nine months after authorities arrested Rezaian and three others, detained them incommunicado for months, and subjected them to repeated interrogations without a lawyer present. Rezaian was reportedly charged in December. The three others, including Rezaian’s wife and fellow journalist, Yeganeh Salehi, have been released on bail. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that authorities are pressuring the couple’s families to not speak with the media.
Instead of providing a glimpse into the life of a wayward journalist, the Fars article shows the tragedy that has befallen journalists, and journalism, in Iran. Even before revolutionary courts prosecute them on vague national security charges, journalists like Rezaian are denied due process, presumed guilty, and pilloried in the press without the chance to respond.