Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter being held in Iran’s infamous Evin prison, was allegedly convicted this week by an Iranian court. Iran’s judicial process is so opaque that, nearly a week after the alleged verdict, it is unclear on just what charges a conviction was obtained. Likewise unclear was whether a sentence had been imposed, and if so what it might be. It does not appear that Iran is interested in convincing anyone that it is acting justly in this matter. Rather, it appears that the Iranian regime is carrying out its usual policy of holding Americans hostage in the hope of pressuring the weak American administration for new concessions.
If the word “hostage” seems harsh, it is the word chosen by the Obama administration for these cases. US Secretary of State John F. Kerry begged the Iranian regime to release him, as well as two other Americans that are being held by Iran. At the time of announcing his request, Kerry was challenged by journalists outraged over this apparent failure by the administration to protect the human right of freedom of the press during the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. Kerry defended his failure to bring up American hostages as — and this is a direct quote — a decision “not to hold a nuclear agreement hostage to hostages.”
The Washington Post expressed its outrage in an editorial on Monday. They note in passing that Iran, having not been asked to give up the hostages in return for endorsement of its uranium enrichment program, has decided to open a new round of negotiations in which it would obtain additional concessions in return for releasing American hostages.
FROM ITS beginning, the case of Jason Rezaian has been a showcase for the opacity, the brazen disregard for the rule of law and, ultimately, the sheer cruelty of Iran’s Islamic regime. Its latest twist is no different. On Sunday, Iranian state television reported that the 39-year-old Post reporter had been convicted in a trial that ended two months ago. Convicted of what? Punished with what sentence? We don’t know: The court’s spokesman told state television he didn’t have “the verdict’s details.” Nor, it appears, did Mr. Rezaian’s lawyer…. President Hassan Rouhani appears to hope that Mr. Rezaian can be used as a bargaining chip to obtain the release of 19 Iranians he says were imprisoned in the United States for violating sanctions….
That he has been unjustly imprisoned for longer than the American hostages were held in Tehran in 1979-81 makes a mockery of Mr. Zarif’s claims that Iran wishes to improve its relations with the outside world. It reveals Iran as a country where the most basic norms of justice are still grotesquely flouted and where taking prisoners to use as pawns is still regarded as an acceptable form of diplomacy. Iran has done extraordinary injury to Mr. Rezaian over the past 14 months. But the longer it holds him, the more damage it does to its international standing.
At this time it is not clear which of the Iranian officials being held by the United States are sought by Iran. Contrary to Iranian claims, the United States government says it has not been presented with any list. The Daily Beast has come up with a list of possible candidates who have been convicted — in open court, and according to American standards of proof beyond a reasonable doubt — of violating the sanctions regime meant to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It is clear why Iran would want such actors freed to resume their work now that its nuclear enrichment activities have an internationally accepted cover.
This would not be the first time that Iran had successfully convinced the Obama administration to release prisoners. In 2009 it was able to obtain the release of several of its operatives in return for nothing except a promise to consider the possibility of talks with the United States.
Nor is it unexpected from the Iranian regime. In spite of his public reputation as a moderate compared with previous Presidents, Iranian President Rouhani has worsened human rights abuses during his leadership. Over seven hundred Iranians have been put to death this year according to Iranian dissident leaders. Member of the European Parliament Tunne Kelam of Estonia recently chided European Union foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini for the EU’s failure to take these abuses seriously.