Reporter held for more than a year is freed on day nuclear deal set to be implemented, along with three other dual nationals
Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist imprisoned in Iran for more than a year, has been released along with three other dual-nationality prisoners as Tehran prepares to implement a historic nuclear agreement with western leaders.
Ahead of senior diplomats announcing the lifting of sanctions on Iran later on Saturday, Tehran’s prosecutor said four dual nationals had been released. The move is believed to be part of a prisoner swap with the US.
The closed-door trial of Rezaian began in May when he appeared before a hardline judge on charges of espionage, collecting confidential information and spreading propaganda against the Islamic republic.
The 39-year-old, who holds Iranian and American citizenship, was arrested at his home in Tehran in July 2014 along with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, also a journalist, and two friends, an Iranian-American couple. The friends were released shortly after their arrest, while Salehi was released on bail in October and is facing a separate trial.
The Post reporter was held on unspecified charges for more than seven months before appearing in court. He was kept incommunicado for most of his time in jail, with little access to his lawyers and family.
The Mehr news agency said Rezaian was among the released prisoners. “Based on the recent decisions made by the national security council and also based on our ruling system’s national interests, four imprisoned dual nationals were released today,” said senior judiciary official Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, according to Mehr.
Two of the other three prisoners are believed to be pastor Saeed Abedini and former marine Amir Hekmati, who was jailed in 2011. The state IRIB TV network identified the third as Nosratollah Khosravi.
Earlier reports suggested businessman Siamak Namazi was released but he appears to be still in prison, his fate unclear. Media reports in Iran suggested the four Iranian-Americans were swapped with seven Iranians who were in US jails for violating sanctions. Their identities were not immediately released.
Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, said the release of the prisoners was “a triumph of diplomacy that should be universally commended. “Now, the freed Americans can be reunited with their families and friends after an extraordinarily trying time for everyone involved. We hope that they find solace in their freedom from the turmoil that they endured.”
Parsi said their release was long overdue but that it was unlikely to have happened if US-Iran diplomatic relations hadn’t improved as a result of the nuclear agreement.
“The US and Iran should deepen their engagement on the serious issues that continue to separate the two countries so that further pragmatic solutions can be reached.”
Iran does not recognise dual citizenship and treated Rezaian as an Iranian. Intelligence authorities in the country have a deep suspicion of dual citizens and have arrested a number in recent years. It also has a history of jailing journalists working for the foreign press. Those previously jailed in Iran include Maziar Bahari, whose ordeal in prison was the subject of Rosewater, a film by the US comedian Jon Stewart.
The Post has repeatedly accused Iran of imposing “Kafkaesque restrictions” on the Rezaian case. It was presided over by Abolghassem Salavati, a judge who is notorious for issuing heavy sentences. Local and foreign media had been denied access to the trial.
The Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron, described the trial as “the shameful acts of injustice” facing his reporter and said “there is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it”.
Many analysts believe Rezaian was caught up in a high-level feud between the administration of President Hassan Rouhani and its internal opponents.
The reporter had been working in Iran with appropriate accreditation. His prolonged detention brought widespread international condemnation and much embarrassment for Rouhani, who has been trying to improve relations with the west, especialy since the landmark nuclear agreement struck in July. After his election victory in 2013, the Post was the first international newspaper approached by Rouhani to publish an opinion piece in which he set out his global vision. Nevertheless, he remained largely quiet in defence of Rezaian.
Mini profile: Jason Rezaian
Rezaian was born in Marin County, north of the San Francisco Bay area, three years before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. His mother, Mary, is American and his late father, Taghi, an Iranian who had emigrated to the US two decades before the reporter’s birth.
Rezaian attended college in New York and then got involved in his father’s carpet selling business before pursuing a career in journalism. He first wrote for a number of US publications, including writing a regular column on Iran for the San Francisco Chronicle. His interest in his father’s homeland led him to apply for an Iranian passport and eventually move to Tehran in 2008.
According to his family, Rezaian was particularly intent on showing a better image of Iran to the world, especially his fellow Americans. “He wanted people to know that Iranians have the same aspirations and hopes and dreams for their families that people all around the west and everywhere else do, and to get rid of this one-dimensional view of Iran,” his brother, Ali, has said.
Rezaian was accredited as a journalist by Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance and had permission to operate in the country. He was always careful not to cross the red lines, his family have said, and his last article before being arrested was about baseball in Iran, although he had travelled to Vienna to cover the Iranian nuclear negotiations several months before that.
He joined the Washington Post in 2012 as its Tehran correspondent, replacing Thomas Erdbrink, who now works for the New York Times in the Iranian capital. A year later, Rezaian married the Iranian journalist Yeganeh Salehi, who wrote for the UAE-based National newspaper.
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