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Trial Of 'Washington Post' Reporter Jason Rezaian Begins In Iran


Iran claims he is a spy. The Washington Post says it's man in Tehran was doing nothing more than any reporter does. He was gathering information. But despite protests from the newspaper and appeals from the U.S. government, and Jason Rezaian, who holds both U.S. and Iranian citizenship, went on trial today, charged with espionage. His trial is being held behind closed doors. Douglas Jehl is The Post's foreign editor. He joins us. Welcome to the program.

DOUGLAS JEHL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And Jason Rezaian has been in detention for 10 months. Is it clear what specific criminal acts or alleged criminal acts he stands accused of?

JEHL: No, it's not clear. And indeed, there's very little about this case that is clear. What we know is that Jason has been in detention longer than any American journalist in Iran, and we know that he's facing very serious charges in this trial that began today. But exactly what those charges are or why Iran believes that Jason Rezaian, an accredited journalist, was somehow doing anything untoward remains a mystery to us.

SIEGEL: And what punishment - do you know - is he facing if convicted in this secret trial?

JEHL: As we understand it, the four charges that he's facing carry together a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.

SIEGEL: Well, we'd been waiting for the start of this trial. What happened in court today in Tehran?

JEHL: What happened was a proceeding behind closed doors that lasted about two hours that involved the judge reading the charges against Jason to Jason and to his lawyer and to virtually no one else. Those who were shut out included his wife, Yeganeh, his mother, Mary, who's been in Tehran trying to attend the trial, as well The Washington Post. We'd sought a visa that would have allowed us to be there. Those requests were unanswered.

SIEGEL: Have you been able to communicate with him during the past 10 months of his detention?

JEHL: No. We have not been able to do so. The only ones who've been permitted to see Jason are his wife, Yeganeh, who's been permitted occasional visits, his mother, Mary, has seen him three times, I think, and then his lawyer who's been permitted to meet with him for a grand total of 90 minutes before this trial. And that was 90 minutes in the presence of official interrogators. So for 10 months, this has really proceeded out of sight and in some ways a black box as far as we're concerned.

SIEGEL: Jason's Rezaian's wife is also on trial as is another defendant.

JEHL: Jason's wife, Yeganeh, is also a journalist. She's an Iranian citizen. She also faces trial as does a third person, a photojournalist who has not been identified publicly. We had thought that all three of them would go on trial together today. We were surprised when that didn't happen. It appears that Jason is being tried alone. Yeganeh, his wife, along with his mother were left to wait in the courthouse, barred from the proceedings themselves, trying to figure out what might've happened.

SIEGEL: President Obama took up the Rezaian case. There are reports that U.S. negotiators have raised it in the talks they're having with Iran about its nuclear program. Do you have any sense that your colleague is being used as a bargaining chip by all or some of the Iranian regime?

JEHL: The Iranian government says that it's not using Jason that way. They're saying this is a trial that's being conducted by the judiciary entirely on legal grounds. I think we're skeptical of that. I think if you look at the way the case has unfolded - its timing, its secrecy - it's hard not to conclude that someone inside the Iranian regime believes they stand to gain from holding Jason and perhaps using him to - as leverage in the nuclear negotiations.

SIEGEL: And do we have any idea of when the trial of Jason Rezaian resumes?

JEHL: We don't. And that's simply the latest in a series of confounding and outrageous steps here. We had really hoped that the beginning of a trial would mean that its end was near. What we were told today was when there's an announcement of a further trial date, the judge will make it public.

SIEGEL: Douglas Jehl, thank you very much for talking with us.

JEHL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Douglas Jehl, foreign editor for The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.