Spying? Press freedom groups lambaste Iran's charges against US reporter

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and you’re with The World. We’re a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH here in Boston. For nine months, Jason Rezaian has been in an Iranian jail, and for nine months it’s been unclear exactly why he’s in there. Today for the first time, the charges against Rezaian were clarified--a little bit.


Sherif Mansour: The charges include collaborating with a hostile government, spreading propaganda against the establishment, and also gathering information about internal and foreign policy.


Werman: That’s Sherif Mansour with the Committee to Protect Journalists in Washington. Mansour is closely following the Rezaian case, because Rezaian is the Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post.  Mansour calls the charges against Rezaian “ridiculous,” and says the Iranian authorities offered no evidence to back them up.


Mansour: The fact that they just described gathering information about internal and foreign policy as a charge makes it very believable that he was just doing his work as a journalist. The is the definition of journalism--gathering and distributing information.


Werman: Now, the charges we have learned the details on today, we know this from Rezaian’s lawyer, that counselor apparently is a court-appointed lawyer? In Iran, what does that mean? Does it come with any baggage, a court-appointed attorney?


Mansour: Well, we know that Jason has tried for a long time to even have access to a lawyer, and he was denied that access. So far, for only 90 minutes in the last nine months was he allowed to talk to his lawyer, and that happened today. It just doesn’t satisfy any minimum standards for a free and fair trial.


Werman: What about the actual trial? I mean, he’s going to be tried in a revolutionary court. What is Rezaian likely to go through with that?


Mansour: We know from the reporting of the Washington Post and the family have said that he will appear in court soon. There was not a defined date. We know that part of the timing is related to other considerations the Iranian regime is having, including the international negotiation and the attempts of some people inside the government to interfere with that process and to pressure international forces, including the US government. We’ve seen the US government bring this case more than once to Secretary Kerry, along with other cases in the talks, and we’ve seen even President Obama mention the case of Jason Rezaian and appealing to the Iranian regime to release him.


Werman: Yeah, it seems like it’s significant, the case of Jason Rezaian, playing against the backdrop of the nuclear negotiations. But I am personally uncertain of what the significance of that is. Is there something significant to say about these charges against Rezaian coming out with these nuclear talks still in the balance?


Mansour: We see from the lawyer’s conversation today that was published by the Post that she thinks that an opening in the negotiation will better allow her defendant to be set free. So, that’s one of the claims that people are saying as for the reason that this case was originated by a lot of hardliners in the Iranian regime was in order to pressure the administration so that they do not give up so much in the negotiation. But we’re all left forgetting an absence of real information, an absence of real evidence that would clarify the exact details of the case.


Werman: The other thing, Sherif--I know that Jason Rezaian’s father is from Iran. But aside from that, his family connections to Iran, has it helped his case at all, or do you think it’s just made it more complicated?


Mansour: Well, we know that Jason came back to Iran and asked for his Iranian citizenship. It’s not clear why they are keeping him in detention and why it has been the longest time ever for any foreign journalist to be kept in Iran to this day. We’ve had several cases of foreign journalists, some with dual citizenship--


Werman: Do you think the Rezaian case is going to play out the same way?


Mansour: I think he will eventually be released. It’s just a matter of when and with what cost. We know that he’s been kept for a long time in solitary confinement, and we know that from his brother and mother who have seen him and talked to him over the phone, he’s lost a lot of weight and has been having a lot of psychological and physical problems because of this prolonged and cruel detention.


Werman: Sherif Mansour with the Committee to Protect Journalists speaking with me from Washington. Thank you very much for telling us about Jason Rezaian.


Mansour: Thank you for having me.