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Why The World Must Unite To Demand The Release Of Journalist Jason Rezaian

19/10/2015 8:06 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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BEHROUZ MEHRI via Getty Images
Mary Rezaian (R), the mother of detained Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and his wife Yeganeh Salehi (L) leave the Revolutionary Court after a hearing on August 10, 2015 in the capital Tehran. The trial of 39-year-old Iranian-American journalist, Jason Rezaian who has been in custody for more than a year, resumed behind closed doors, in what could be the final hearing before a judgment is issued on whether he spied on Iran. AFP PHOTO / BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

I add my voice to the many journalists, activists and concerned citizens in condemning the conviction of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian in Iran on charges that include espionage.

The United States government has also formally protested about the sham trial that was conducted in secrecy and the equally sham verdict that the world was made aware of by an announcement on Iranian television. It is an unconscionable crime and a mockery of international laws to hold a fake trial behind closed doors and I believe that Iran should rectify this injustice immediately.

The back story on Rezaian: The Washington Post, a passionate champion for their employee reported that on 22 July, 2014, the Iranian law enforcement broke into Rezaian's home and arrested him and his wife Yeganeh Salehi, who is also a journalist.

"As a journalist, I am outraged at Rezaian's imprisonment and I urge everyone to speak out as one voice in demanding his release."

Taken to Iran's infamously brutal prison, Evin, Rezaian was sent to solitary confinement for months. Law enforcement has never explained to either Rezaian's employer or family why they did what they did.

Salehi, an Iranian citizen, was released on bail last autumn, but Rezaian, who holds both Iranian and American citizenships, has been languishing in the notorious prison for 14 months now. Iran dragged out its quest for justice, taking 10 months before starting the trial and taking another two to hand down the verdict.

The court has not said what the sentence is but Rezaian could be looking at anywhere from 10 to 20 years.

In a recent statement, Martin Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post called verdict "contemptible," adding, "Jason is a victim -- arrested without cause, held for months in isolation, without access to a lawyer, subjected to physical mistreatment and psychological abuse and now convicted without basis."

When I called a few journalists in the Washington Post newsroom, they described feeling depressed and saddened at their colleague's plight. They all wear a "Free Jason" badge every day and promise to do so until he comes home.

They did not go on record as all official comments are made by Baron, but here are some of the facts they pointed out: Rezaian has spent more than three times as long in jail than any other Western journalist. He has also been in prison longer than the 52 Americans held in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis which damaged the relationship between the countries forever.

Political watchers say that Iran is using Rezaian as a bargaining chip. The State Department has tried and failed to secure his release during negotiations that led to the nuclear deal. (Ironically, this is a deal that they hoped would bring Iran out of isolation and help avoid situations like Rezaian's.)

There has been a ray of light: Iran has recently floated the idea of a prisoner swap. There are two Iranian-American in US prisons and they are being held for violating sanctions.

Apart from the politics, the emotional and psychological toll on the Rezaian family has been intense. Rezaian's mother Mary and his wife Yeganeh have been able to see Jason in prison weekly and they report that he is depressed. One of Rezaian's biggest defenders is his brother Ali who has emerged as the family's spokesperson and the driving force behind the #FreeJasonCampaign and he started a petition to free Jason, which hundreds of thousands have signed worldwide.

Ali has put his own life on hold and at last count has logged 150,000 miles between the United States and Iran. Some of these meetings have been with government officials and liaisons and most have been completely useless.

He says his brother is innocent and that his detention is "unjust, cruel and inhumane." He has urged the United States to secure his release immediately.

As a journalist, I am outraged at Rezaian's imprisonment and I urge everyone to speak out as one voice in demanding his release.

Citizens and activists, please sign this petition. Journalists, please write more stories on Rezaian. Others please share this on social media.

Let's bring Jason home safe where he belongs. Soon.

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