Veteran diplomat Richard Haass turns from foreign affairs to threats from within. He argues Americans focus so much on rights we forget our obligations as citizens -- and the country is suffering because of it.
In July of last year, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was arrested by Iranian officials and charged with espionage. In May, his secret trial began in a Revolutionary Guards’ courtroom. It continued for 10 weeks. On Monday, a final hearing was held in the case. Rezaian remains in solitary confinement in one of Tehran’s most notorious prisons while he awaits a verdict. If convicted, the 39-year-old journalist could face up to 20 years in prison. Here at home, some members of Congress have criticized the Obama administration for not requiring Rezaian’s release as part of the Iran nuclear agreement. We look at the trial of Jason Rezaian and what the verdict could mean for the future of U.S.-Iranian relations.
- Reza Marashi Research director, National Iranian American Council, former Iran desk officer, U.S. State Department.
- Haleh Esfandiari Director emerita of the Middle East Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; author of "Reconstructed Lives: Women and Iran's Islamic Revolution"
- Douglas Jehl Foreign editor, The Washington Post
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The trial of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian concluded in Tehran this week with a verdict expected soon. The 39-year-old journalist was charged with espionage and remains in solitary confinement. Rezaian has denied all charges. His employer, The Washington Post, recently appealed to the UN for help.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the trial of Jason Rezaian, the inner workings of the Iran judicial system and what a verdict could mean for the pending Iran nuclear agreement, Reza Marashi of the National Iranian American Council, Douglas Jehl of The Washington Post and Haleh Esfandiari of The Woodrow Wilson Center. I do invite you to join the conversation as always. The number to call, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Thank you all for being here.
MR. DOUGLAS JEHLThank you, Diane.
MS. HALEH ESFANDIARIThank you.
MR. REZA MARASHIThank you.
REHMGood to see you. Doug Jehl, remind us how we got to this point. Tell us a little about Jason Rezaian and why he was arrested.
JEHLJason's a terrific, big-hearted journalist who's lived in Tehran for five or six years now. He's worked for The Washington Post for a couple years. Last July, at midnight, authorities came, knocked down the door of the apartment he shares with his wife and took Jason into prison. That began a nightmare. He's been months in prison without charges, months more without access to a lawyer.
JEHLNow, nearly two months of a sham trial that's had no pretense of due process or fairness, that trial has wrapped up. We're awaiting a verdict. It's time for the authorities to end this sham of a judicial process and bring this matter to a fair resolution. He's absolutely innocent. He never should've detained. He should be freed immediately.
REHMIt was actually the second time he had been arrested, was it not?
JEHLNo. That's not true. His wife was detained in March for several hours in the afternoon. Jason, himself, had never been detained before. He recognized the dangers of a journalist operating in Iran. He knew what had happened to other journalists and to our guest Haleh Esfandiari here, but he had not been arrested before.
REHMAnd what is he actually charged with?
JEHLWell, that's among the many mysteries in this case because Iran has proceeded in absolute secrecy. We believe we know that he faces four charges, the more serious -- most serious of which is espionage. But what the evidence might be remains opaque. Jason's lawyer has read the file. She can't talk about it, but what she can say is there's absolutely no foundation whatsoever to believe that Jason did anymore more than practice journalism.
REHMWhat kind of reporting was he doing for The Washington Post?
JEHLJason really believed that his role was to help each society understand one another. Most of what he wrote was about ordinary Iranian people. He wrote about baseball being played in Iran. He wrote about hamburgers. He wrote about the impact of sanctions on ordinary Iranians. But Jason didn't report on anything anywhere near the kind of sensitive issue that might normally have raised the alarms of authorities.
REHMDouglas Jehl, he's foreign editor of The Washington Post. Reza Marashi, how unusual is Jason's case?
MARASHII think what makes Jason's case unusual is the way that it's been handled. Of all the foreign journalists that have been imprisoned in Iran, Jason's been in prison three times longer than any other. As Douglas said, no evidence has been produced by the prosecution in any of Jason's four hearing. So in theory and in practice, frankly, he should be acquitted of all charges. I think the reality of the situation is that the Iranian government has backed itself into a corner because some bad apples inside its system decided to do something that has been egregiously unjust.
MARASHIAnd now, they have to find a way out and it's proven to be very difficult for them.
REHMIs the Iranian legal system always this secret? I mean, they seem to have released no information at all.
MARASHII'm of the opinion that there's no rhyme or reason to this process. They've changed the rules of the game as this process has gone along. Sometimes you see them do that in other cases. Sometimes other cases are much more expeditious. But in the Jason's case, it's been anything but linear.
REHMWhat about the accusers? Who are they? What have they said?
MARASHIYour guess is as good as mine. I mean, right now, the judicial process has been entirely opaque and I think it's important to emphasize that the Iranian judiciary hasn't even followed its own rules in prosecuting Jason and giving him due process.
REHMWhat are the rules?
MARASHIWell, for example, Jason should have been charged with a crime long before the actual charges were released. It never happened. He was just imprisoned and no information was given whatsoever. There were leaks and insinuations and accusations and hard line Iranian news stories, but that's very different than how a judiciary is supposed to operate in any country.
REHMReza Marashi, he's with the National Iranian American Council. And to you, Haleh Esfandiari, what's your reaction to all of this?
ESFANDIARIMy reaction to Jason's arrest and his incarceration and the way he has been treated is that this is a domestic issue. The intelligence ministry, the security people and the judiciary who does not -- is not responsive to the government, this ought try to embarrass the Rouhani government, especially President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif. When he was first arrested, as you recall, Zarif said, when asked about Jason's arrest, he said he's a friend and he's a fair journalist.
ESFANDIARIBut then, gradually, as the judiciary kept on keeping Jason, even Zarif and Rouhani's tone changed. You know, they said, you know, the judiciary is independent, which it's not, of course. The judiciary is independent and it has to take its due course and we hope that Jason would be freed soon. So, you know, I'm sure that behind the scene, both Zarif and Rouhani have tried to get the release of Jason, but they haven't succeeded.
REHMSo you believe that his arrest initially was entirely because of the inner workings of the government?
ESFANDIARIMy sense is that really as resources, they don't (unintelligible) there is no case. They don't have a case against Jason. Had they had a case against him, they would have had a public -- at least one public session of the court where he would have confessed. So they don't have a case against him. They are trying to put together a case by keeping him in solitary confinement and also, you know, I mean, I really think that they were trying to undermine all these negotiations in -- that was going on in Geneva, in Vienna.
ESFANDIARIAnd because if Jason really was a spy as they claim to be, why wait and arrest him after he goes to -- I believe was it Vienna or Geneva where he was covering the talks? Why not earlier, you know? So...
REHMHaleh, I wonder because I know you, too, had your experience with the Iranian government, to what extent does this situation remind you, in any way, of your own experience?
ESFANDIARIActually, it reminds me a lot because Jason is a political prisoner. I was a political prisoner in Iran, too. He was in -- he is and continues to be in solitary confinement. I was in solitary confinement. He is accused of espionage. I was accused of being a spy. I remember one day when they insisted that I'm spying both for the CIA and Mossad and MI5, I told my interrogators, look, you have to make up your mind. I can't be a spy for all these three agencies simultaneously, you know.
ESFANDIARISo it reminds me a lot. But I think that he is treated much worse than I was treated, you know. What we hear is that he's having -- they are giving him a rough time in prison. I mean, for me, it was a lot of mental pressure, mental torture, but no physical torture. Until Jason leaves prison, we don't know what they did with him.
REHMWhat do you suspect?
ESFANDIARII don't think they would give him physical torture, but the mental torture, depriving him of his medication and also cutting him off from the outside world is enough to, you know, for a person to bear for such a long time.
REHMHaleh Esfandiari, she is director Emeritus of the Middle East Project and the Woodrow Wilson International Center and author of "Reconstructed Lives: Women and Iran's Islamic Revolution." Your calls, your comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the case of Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian, who has been held in solitary confinement in one of the worst prisons in Tehran. There have been now three hearings, the last of which took place this week, ended this week, but we know absolutely nothing about what was said, what the accusations are, other than that Mr. Rezaian has been accused of being a spy.
REHMThere have been no reports of what witnesses have alleged. Virtually no information coming out. Here in the studio, Reza Marashi, he's with the National Iranian American Council, Douglas Jehl, foreign editor of The Washington Post and Haleh Esfandiari who, herself, was held as a prisoner in Tehran. Haleh, what kinds of questions did the guards ask of you when you were held prisoner?
ESFANDIARII was under (word?) basically for eight months so for eight months, I was interrogated, of which then I spend three months in prison. So the questions were basically, in my case, about the nature of my work at the Wilson Center because I was director of the Middle East program, the kind of people who come to the Wilson Center, the kind of meetings I have had with the U.S. government officials. And they thought that the Wilson Center was part of the plot of overthrowing the regime.
ESFANDIARIDon't forget, Diane, I was arrested under President Bush when Congress had allocated $74 million to promote democracy in Iran and Iran was called a rogue state. So, you know, and they -- I sensed a kind of paranoia among my interrogator and the intelligence ministry people because they felt -- Iran felt surrounded by an American military presence in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Central Asia and so on. So the question was based -- the questions were mostly focused on my activities and activities of other think tanks and media and so.
REHMAnd were you allowed to have any visitors while you were held in prison?
ESFANDIARINo. I had -- I was allowed maybe one or two phone calls a week with my mother, who was 93 years old, an Austrian citizen living in Iran all her life, but in the presence of either my interrogator and a guard and for just one minute, telling her, I'm fine, how are you, and that's the beginning and the end. And one visit only in the presence of guards and interrogators.
REHMAnd Douglas Jehl, has Jason been allowed visitors?
JEHLHe's been allowed periodic visitors in recent months. His wife, Yeganeh, who was arrested with him, held for two months, is out on bail. She's been permitted to release -- to see him periodically. His mother, Mary, who has been in Tehran for several months now through this trial, has been able to see him three or four times over these months. But he's essentially been isolated. The Iranian government has said, he's an Iranian citizen. The U.S. government has no say over his fate. He hasn't been allowed to talk to us, his brother, to anyone else.
REHMDoes he have dual citizenship?
JEHLHe's a dual U.S./Iranian citizen. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, by all purposes, an American kid. His dad was an Iranian emigre. As an adult, he went back to Iran, took the dual citizenship, began to work in Iran. That has made things difficult because Iran says the U.S. government will not recognize his American citizenship.
REHMAnd Reza, what about his attorney? How often has she been permitted to see him?
MARASHIMore frequently recently, but not nearly enough. Again, the due process, overall, has been haphazard at best and I think it speaks to a larger issue, which is that this whole thing has been a violation of Jason's human rights. He's been held unjustly for over a year for a crime that he hasn't committed.
REHMWhich is why The Washington Post has recently gone to the UN.
JEHLThat's right. Gone to the UN human rights working group to make an urgent appeal, asked them to make an urgent appeal to release -- for Iran to release Jason on grounds that his detention has been arbitrary, a violation of Iran's laws and international law.
REHMWas there anything in his computer? Was there anything he was working on that gave the Iranians rise to the suspicion that somehow he was a spy?
MARASHIWe know that after months and months of combing through Jason's hard drive and his records that the Iranians have begin to make it know through press leads that they were concerned about a letter, an application that Jason wrote to the Obama transition team after President Obama's election in 2008, as if that was somehow untoward. It's ridiculous. But after many months, that's about the only specific bit of evidence that has emerged as somehow questionable in the Iranian eyes.
REHMSo have you personally been able to communicate with Jason since he was arrested?
MARASHINo. I went to see Jason 14 months ago in June and spent about a week with Jason and his wife. He was the top of his game. They'd been married less than a year. Visited him in his apartment. Six week later, the curtain essentially shut. I got a call from one of Jason's friends saying Jason had been arrested and we have spent the last year doing everything we possibly can to put pressure on the Iranian government to bring about Jason's release.
REHMHaleh, why did the Iranian government finally release you?
ESFANDIARIWell, I think mine was a special case. Lee Hamilton, who was then the president of the Wilson Center, wrote a letter to the supreme leader and the supreme leader replied to Hamilton's letter and Hamilton was told that this was the first time ever that the supreme leader had communicated with a high level American official. The letter came from his office and was read to Lee at the mission in New York.
ESFANDIARIAnd all it said, you know, I've never seen the letter because they had agreed to keep it secret. All it said is that the matter of your concern will be resolved soon. My take is that the supreme leader decided and told the judiciary, you know, if there is no case against her, just let her go. But in order to save face, they had to put my mother -- my mother had to put her house as the bail to let me go. And even in the case of Jason, I just add that if the supreme leader, for whatever reason, decides that enough is enough, whether he pardons him or whether he said, okay, try and finish up this case, it's becoming too embarrassing for the Iranian government, they will put an end quickly.
ESFANDIARISo I think at the end of the day, the supreme leader has to step in. That's my case. That's my sense.
REHMAnd what do you think could prompt the supreme leader to step in, Reza.
MARASHIInternal Iranian politics is going to dictate things above all else. The reality of the situation is that you have different political factions and different political individuals that are trying to tug the system in each direction.
REHMTell me about those different political factions and how they're at work here.
MARASHISure. Well, to summarize things, to take something that's complex and maybe try and distill it a little bit, I would say that when President Rouhani was elected, he is of a different mindset and a different world view than his predecessor. They're not trying to turn Iran into a democracy overnight, but they believe that the biggest threat to the Iranian system, as it exists today, is internal threats, not external threats. So in order to address those internal threats and create the space necessary to do so, you need to resolve problems slowly but surely with the outside world.
MARASHINow, there's another group of people, I would argue a smaller group of people, hard liners they're often called her in the United States, that disagree with this world view of President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif and others, that don’t want Iran to build bridges to the outside world. So when Jason, who was a gregarious, social guy who believed in building bridges between Iran and the outside world, when he's standing on those bridges, hard liners can very quickly decide to try and blow up those bridges and that's why we are in the situation that we're in today.
REHMBut to what extent do you agree with Haleh that the Iranian nuclear agreement with the United States has gotten enmeshed?
MARASHII certainly agree with Haleh that this situation has been -- Jason's situation has been pulled into broader geopolitical issues and, frankly, it shouldn’t be. And if, in fact, that is what's happening and I think that it is, I agree with Haleh, then it's the responsibility of the Iranian government to take the initiative to separate out issues and resolve problems that are only going to continue isolation rather than integration.
REHMBut are you suggesting that the very people who have insisted on holding Jason are the same people who do not want to see this agreement go through?
MARASHII think that the same -- in my personal view, the people that have done this to Jason inside the Iranian system are the people that neither want a nuclear agreement nor to build bridges with the outside world.
REHMTo what extent would you agree with that, Doug?
JEHLI think that's right. I think Jason's been caught in a vice grip between those who've been carrying out the negotiations with the United States and those who want to undercut the talks. Now, what's been discouraging in the last month since the deal was reached is that Jason's treatment has worsened. I should correct you. He's no longer in solitary confinement. He does have a cell mate, but his treatment has worsened in other ways.
REHMHow do you know?
JEHLBecause he has periodic visits from his wife and his mother, we hear some aspects of his treatment.
REHMAnd to what extent has that treatment worsened? Give us an example.
JEHLI don't want to be specific about what's happening, but his treatment -- he is more isolated than he was previously. He's had privileges taken away from in the last month since this deal was reached.
REHMEven though he's no longer in solitary confinement?
JEHLYes, that's right. And I should say that while he's in solitary confinement, his cell mate doesn't speak English so there's really no communication between the two.
REHMHaleh, do you want to comment?
ESFANDIARIWell, my sense is that because there is also this -- a lot of international pressure to try and release him, in certain cases it helps. In his case, it has not yet helped, but I think one has to continue with this pressure and even increase the pressure on the Iranian government. But solitary confinement, you know, once you're in solitary confinement, your privileges are so little. I mean, I don't know whether the cell he's kept in has its own facilities.
ESFANDIARIIf it does, then he even doesn't -- won't see his guards because at least in my case, in order to go and wash my hands, even I had to knock on the door. A human being would open the door, take me -- let me go out, wash my hands and come back, but if the facilities are in your room, so you are completely cut off. You don't see anybody. And then, they can come and question you at midnight, 2:00 in the morning, 3:00 in the morning. It's terrible.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have an email here from Mark who said, "I don't like the treatment this journalist has received in Iran. However, journalists in places like Syria and Iran ply their trade at their own risk. Journalists and humanitarian workers are not exempt from the risks in dangerous countries." How do you respond to that, Doug?
JEHLIt is a risky profession and it's become riskier. The risks include war, terrorism, but also, as we've seen now, governments. And what's so discouraging now from Iran, from Egypt and others is that governments don’t seem to have any qualms about using journalists for political purposes
REHMAnd you've had a great number of journalists lose their lives in these last few years of war.
JEHLIt's been very difficult for all of us in the news business. Journalists have been killed in Syria. Many of them -- we've seen the awful beheadings in the past year of journalists operating there. Others are still missing. Austin Tice, the journalist who worked for The Washington Post, continues to be missing in Syria. It's a difficult time. Journalists do recognize the dangers they go into, but we should expect that governments will carry out their obligations to protect them, no persecute them.
REHMReza, at one of his press conferences, President Obama was asked, perhaps the question awkwardly presented, but he was asked, in effect, how come the issue of hostages had not been included in the issue of the Iran nuclear agreement. Do you believe it should have been and do you believe it simply could not have been?
MARASHII believe it simply could not have been and that's not because a nuclear deal is more important than Jason's human rights. I think human rights are, by far, the most important issue. But what I do believe is that governments prioritize strategic interests and strategic values. And in this particular case, both sides decided that if they were to try an include every issue that they disagree on, every issue that they have a problem with in a negotiation, nothing would ever get done.
MARASHISo they took the 8,000 pound gorilla in the room, which was the nuclear issue, sought to resolve that. Okay, well, now if Congress ends up passing it or Obama's veto holds, that issue will be resolved. So that's one less excuse for the Iranian government to continue the unjust imprisonment of Jason and it actually increases the responsibility, in my view, of President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif and others who want to build these bridges to the outside world, to help resolve this issue. They should use political cache they have to help get this solved.
REHMAll right. Short break here and when we come back, we'll open the phones. Your questions, comments are always an important part of the program. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about the fate of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been held in a prison in Tehran. Hearings have been held, but we, thus far, don't know the results of those hearings. Let's go to Detroit, Michigan. Hi, Roberta. You're on the air. Go right ahead.
ROBERTAHi, I love your show.
ROBERTAI apologize, because I'm trying to recall a show that I watched recently and I do believe, I can't think of the name of it, but I believe Jason and his wife were the -- one of the families interviewed there in Iran. And Jason spoke about how he loved his country and, but, he said there were things he didn't like. His wife went on to say something along the lines of how they would like to see more communications and friendship between America and Iran. And why that wasn't happening, they didn't understand.
ROBERTAThey use a comparison of the women in Saudi Arabia not having rights, whereas women in Iran had all sorts of rights. And so, that being said, and I hope I have the right journalist who was interviewed in this show.
ROBERTACould he have said something that upset the government? Those hard liners who don't want that connection with the Western world?
REHMAll right, Reza.
MARASHIJason and his wife were on a show, the, Anthony Bourdain's program. "Parts Unknown," I believe the show was called. And it was a great program. I highly recommend everybody go and watch the episode that Jason and his wife were on. I watched it and there -- in my view, as an analyst, there wasn't a single thing that Jason said, just like in my view as an analyst, there isn't a single that Jason has done that could have incriminated him. Or been used against him.
MARASHIIf anything, Jason was an ambassador to show that Iran is more than what our hard liners here in the United States oftentimes incorrectly present it to be.
REHMHere's an email from Dan in Sacramento, California. Do your guests think President Obama has been actively working to free the American prisoners in Iran or do they believe more could have been done? Doug.
JEHLThe US government has worked hard to raise Jason's case repeatedly and loudly in public and in private with Iran. We would like them to do more. We think it's valuable every time President Obama calls attention to Jason's case, which he's done in public twice. We think it's vital that this be part of the dialogue that continues between the US and Iran, even while this nuclear talk, this nuclear deal is being debated in the legislature in both countries.
REHMWhat would be the equivalent of a letter from former member of Congress Lee Hamilton?
JEHLWithout being specific, I think your readers can, or your listeners can assume that we've done everything possible already. We've used every means of leverage we can identify. Working with foreign governments, working with the US government, working with others. The trouble is that those who are holding Jason are not the ones who, that the US government is talking to. Those security agencies operate in the shadows, not easily available to anyone from the outside.
REHMWould you agree, Haleh, that the US government has done everything it could do up to now?
ESFANDIARIMy sense is that from what I read and what I hear, both privately and publicly, that every time an American official has met an Iranian official, they have brought up the case of Jason and the other Americans. You know, there are two other American Iranian in jail and one has disappeared. So, sure, but you know, there is never enough, no matter how much you do, and I speak as a former political prisoner. You have to do more, you have to continue keeping the pressure and always look for ways to bring pressure on the Iranians.
ESFANDIARII mean, let's say, ask other foreign ministers, not only the P5+1, but the ones who are good relations with Iran. For example, the Indian or the Japanese, you know? I'm just mentioning the ones who were involved in my case, to talk to the Iranian all the time, you know.
REHMDo you believe that's happening, Reza?
MARASHII do believe it's happening, but I share the view of Doug and Haleh, that more can always be done. And this is the unfortunate reality of those of us that are sitting here outside of Iran. And even those that are inside of Iran that are trying to help Jason out is you always feel like you want to do more. But you know that there isn't much more that you can do. That is the gift and the curse of all of this, is you want to help as much as you can.
MARASHIBut at the end of day, the Iranian government has to make a decision.
REHMI know we've been talking a great deal about Jason Rezaian. Tell us about the others who are currently being held, Reza.
MARASHIYou have a former Marine, Amir Hekmati, who's being held. You have an Iranian American pastor, Saeed Abedini, and then you have Bob Levinson, who has disappeared. We don't know if he's inside of Iran or outside of Iran, a former US government official. And I think that there's more that the Iranian government can do on each of these cases, including Jason and the other three, to help bring a peaceful resolution. So that the families can reconnect.
REHMBut at what stage are these other cases? Jason's is prominent, obviously, because of his affiliation with the Washington Post. But what about the others? Are they in the same kind of prominence?
MARASHIWell, I think that the level of prominence is important in all of the cases, because in each case, these individuals have been unjustly imprisoned. But I also think it's important to point out that these are four separate cases. And conflating them with one another actually isn't helpful at all, in my view. Because the Iranian government shouldn't be allowed to give broad based sweeping answers that put all of these people in the same category. They should have to answer specifically on each case for the actions that they, themselves, have taken to keep these individuals imprisoned.
REHMAll right, to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hello there, Gary. You're on the air.
GARYHi, I'm just wondering, is there anything that can be done about the problem of spy agencies actually using a journalist as spies? I mean, I guess it's not completely implausible to the Iranians that any given journalist is a spy. And that's a problem created by the spy agencies. CIA as well as other spy agencies. Can you talk a little about that?
JEHLWell, it should be implausible, because the US government has by law been prohibited from using journalists as spies for more than 30 years now, since the intelligence reforms of the late 1970s. There should be no doubt in the minds of any government that an accredited journalist is not, is not a spy. And Jason was accredited by the Iranian government. Operating with the full permission, full knowledge of the Iranians.
REHMBut, let's be realistic. In Pakistan, you had health workers used as spies, so there we are. And journalists are extremely prominent. They're right out there, reporting back to their readers, but the suspicion is always there that they're doing more than simply reporting.
MARASHIWell, there is a difference between suspicion and burden of proof. If the Iranian government thinks that Jason was operating as a spy, it's their responsibility to demonstrate, with evidence, not suspicion, why he has been held for over a year. Why his human rights have been violated for over a year? So, you can have these concerns. Fair enough. Every government spies, and they all spy in different kinds of capacities. But that doesn't mean that you can willy-nilly imprison a man for over a year and take him away from his family.
REHMAll right, to Christopher in Jacksonville, Florida. You're on the air.
CHRISTOPHERI actually have the same point as the previous caller. I think that our track record as our country is so dominant in the covert operatives. And lying about things all the time. NGO workers, possibly journalists, even if there is a law that's supposed to prohibit it doesn't actually mean that we actually play by our own rules. And I think that track record makes people reasonably suspicious.
ESFANDIARIJournalists are an endangered species, especially in Iran. And I’m sure that every foreign journalist, including Jason must have been followed, all the time, by somebody from the Intelligence Ministry. And if they pose the slightest stat that he was a spy or that he was doing any kind of work that is beyond being a journalist, they would have gone after him much earlier. But, so it is very difficult for the Intelligence Ministry people to understand the difference between being a journalist and being a spy.
ESFANDIARIAs a journalist, you asked questions all the time. Their reaction is why argue these questions? Why are you asking these questions? Therefore, you must be a spy, which is not the case. They don't understand, even now, how the system works.
REHMHere's an email from Edward, who says, does Jason speak Farsi, or only English? Would he understand what was happening in the hearings?
MARASHIJason does speak Farsi, and I think that his need to have documents translated for him, or read to him, that's probably been the case. And I think the ability to communicate in a legal manner, I think he's been able to do okay, but certainly, his lawyer has been able to help him in that respect as well. But again, this speaks to a broader process. Let's say, for example, you're Jason, and you can speak Farsi and you can make your way around Iran just fine. But then you're presented with a stack of legal documents that are all in Farsi.
MARASHIAnd you don't read Farsi very well, because you grew up in the United States. Shouldn't you be given those documents in English? Shouldn't those be translated for you so that you can understand them in a more efficient manner? And so, again, it goes back to this idea of due process.
REHMAnd do you know that he was given those documents only in Farsi?
MARASHII think the lawyer herself, if I'm not mistaken, has said that that's been the case.
REHMI see. Haleh Esfandiari, when do you expect a verdict in this case?
ESFANDIARII really am not sure, because there is no such thing as a law that, within one week, they should have a verdict. You know, it might happen in September. In October. It might happen next week. I think if he's lucky, he will get time served and he will be freed. But we don't know what will happen, and if the Intelligence Ministry decides to do a face saving, find a face saving solution, they'll give him an additional two or three months and then free him on bail. That is my hope and aspiration for Jason. But we just don't know.
REHMWhat do you think, Doug?
JEHLWe really don't know what's going to happen. It's this sham travesty of a case has just been a nightmare for Jason and his family. What's important, however this is completed, is that it be completed quickly and that Jason be exonerated and allowed to be reunited with his family, for he and Yegi (sp?) to be able to leave Iran just as Haleh and others have been jailed previously have been allowed to leave Iran.
REHMSo, if he is given, say, two or three months more, and then released on bail, what kind of bail are we talking about?
MARASHIWell, there have been instances, as Haleh said earlier, where, you know, you have to put up a house in order to, in order to make bail. Again, I emphasize to you there is no rhyme or reason to this process. They make decisions on the fly about what they think it should be and they do this precisely because they know they've made an indefensible decision, so they have to create some kind of substantiated reason.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Would posting bail then simply allow him to leave the country?
MARASHIIt wouldn't allow him to leave the country immediately. It would be one step in a process that would help expedite his departure from the country. But again, they can create as many obstacles as they want and they can create a process on the fly. There's no set process for Jason or others.
REHMHow long after your mother posted bail were you allowed to leave the country, Haleh?
ESFANDIARI10 days. When they released me, they said there is no way they would let me leave the country, but something must have happened, because within 10 days, I was allowed to apply for an Iranian passport again. And then leave the country. But my case is still open, you know, and the house is, the bail is still there. So, you know, they can summon me anytime they want.
REHMI mean, obviously, then, you would not go back to Iran.
ESFANDIARIOf course not.
REHMBut what would it mean if they said you are due here? We demand your presence here.
ESFANDIARIWell, I will appoint a lawyer who will represent me, and they will open the file and there will be a court case. Either I will be sentenced for a number of years in prison, or I will be freed and the case will be closed. But the parting word of my interrogator was that don't worry, there are cases that are open for 25 years, so don't rush.
ESFANDIARI25 years. Yeah.
REHMSo, Jason's case and the cases of the others who are currently being held, could go on for years and years.
MARASHIWell, I think Haleh has made a very important point. I mean, one of the reasons why a lot of these cases stay open for so long, 25 years for example, is this is one way that the Iranian government can keep leverage over you. They say, your case is still open, so be careful what you say. Be careful what you do.
REHMAll right, so, if this case goes against Jason, if he is found guilty, and the Iranian government demands that he remain in prison, how do you think that could affect the US/Iranian nuclear deal?
MARASHII think it -- the ability to affect the nuclear deal is limited. The ability to affect broader US/Iran relations, and the ability to use the nuclear deal as a foundation from which a more positive relationship can grow, it would certainly damage it. It would be very difficult for both the Iranian government and the US government to circumvent this kind of issue.
REHMReza Marashi, he's with the National Iranian American Council. Douglas Jehl, Foreign Editor at the Washington Post. Haleh Esfandiari, Director Emerita of the Middle East Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Let's hope for the best for all those being held. Thank you so much.
REHMAnd thanks all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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