Muhammad Ali says Iran must free detained US-born reporter

Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian, has been imprisoned since July 2014 on unknown charges, Taimur Khan reports.
Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi in Tehran on September 10, 2013. EPA
Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi in Tehran on September 10, 2013. EPA

NEW YORK // Boxing legend Muhammad Ali called on authorities in Tehran to free an Iranian-American journalist who has remained in prison for eight months after being arrested along with his wife, The National correspondent Yeganeh Salehi, on unknown charges.

“Insha’Allah, it is my great hope that the government and judiciary of Iran will end the prolonged detention of journalist Jason Rezaian and provide him with access to all of his legal options,” Ali said in a statement on Thursday.

“During his time as the Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran, Jason used his gift of writing and intimate knowledge of the country to share the stories of the people and culture of Iran to the world.”

Rezaian, 38, and his wife, Salehi were arrested at their Tehran apartment on July 22. Salehi was finally released on bail in October, but her husband remains in Evin prison. Only in recent weeks has he been allowed to hire an attorney, who has still not been granted access to Rezaian, according to his brother Ali Rezaian.

The couple’s case was referred to the country’s Revolutionary Court, which typically handles espionage and national security cases, as well as those of accused political dissidents, though the charges have never been made public – even to the accused. Iran is treating both as Iranian citizens, despite the US-born Rezaian’s dual citizenship, and has denied him any consular services through the US interests sections of the Swiss embassy.

His voice cracking and holding back tears, Ali Rezaian said his brother had asked him, through his mother, to make sure he was free by his birthday, which is Sunday and coincides with the traditional Persian new year, Nowruz.

“This is a very significant time of the year for Iranians, a time for new beginnings, when families gather, and a time of generosity and mercy,” Ali said, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday. “In the spirit of Nowruz I would ask ... judge [Abolghassem] Solavati to please allow Jason to spend the Nowruz with his wife and her family.”

The couple’s lawyer has made a formal request for the temporary five-day bail, he added.

The court did not allow Rezaian’s family to hire their preferred lawyer, Masoud Shafii, who previously represented three detained American hikers, all of whom were freed in 2011 after two years in detention. Instead, Rezaian will share with Salehi her choice of lawyer, Leila Ahsan, who was approved by the court.

The detention of Rezaian has been broached by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, with his Iranian counterpart during ongoing nuclear negotiations, but so far has had no effect. The judge assigned to the case, Abolghassem Salavati, is a hardline conservative who has been sanctioned by the European Union since 2011 for the harsh sentences he has handed down to political dissidents.

A petition calling for Rezaian’s release on the Change.org website has been signed by 239,000 people so far. “We believe this will make a difference,” said Doug Jehl, Rezaian’s editor at the Washington Post.

During his first five months in detention, Rezaian was held in solitary confinement and subjected to up to 10 hours of interrogations a day, and lost 50 pounds of weight, his brother said. He was also denied medical treatment for infections and a back injury, Ali said.

More recently Rezaian has been treated by a doctor and has been moved to a shared cell, but his family is concerned about the “great toll on his psychological condition”, Ali said. The family has said previously that Rezaian’s depression is growing worse.

“There is the added burden of knowing that without even pretence of evidence, the country he worked so hard to demystify to the world continues to deprive him of his rights and ignores their own legal process to prevent him from presenting a defence.”

While Rezaian’s ordeal has garnered worldwide attention – his detention is the longest of any western journalist in Iran – his wife, Salehi, has also endured harrowing conditions despite now being free on bail.

She was forbidden from consulting an attorney and has not been told the charges against her, while her press credentials have been revoked, Ali said.

“She lives in constant fear of punishment for any misstep in her daily life” and is “unable to interact with many of her friends”, he added.

tkhan@thenational.ae

Published: March 13, 2015 04:00 AM

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