Rezaian and Other Iranian-American Prisoners Held on Sham Charges Should be Released
August 10, 2015— The Rouhani administration should immediately secure the release of three Iranian-American prisoners, Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, and Amir Mirzaei Hekmati who are being held on politically motived charges, said the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran today.
“The Iranian government wants the world to look the other way while these individuals, prosecuted under bogus charges and without any semblance of due process, languish in Iranian prisons,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the Campaign. “Rouhani can’t have it both ways: if he wants to end Iran’s international pariah status, he should use all his authority to end the unlawful targeting of these dual nationals.”
Under Article 113 of the Iranian constitution, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has the power to question the Judiciary on the condition of prisoners and on the Judiciary’s compliance with Iran’s own laws guaranteeing due process. Iranian law also explicitly stipules that the president is responsible for ensuring the Iranian constitution’s enforcement.
“It is long past time that the Rouhani administration ceases its silence on these political prisoners and actively works to secure their release,” continued Ghaemi.
Jason Rezaian, the 38-year-old dual Iranian and US citizen who has been the Washington Post correspondent in Tehran since 2012, has been held in prison in Iran since July 22, 2014.
Rezaian’s interrogations were completed a few months after his arrest and the Judiciary repeatedly delayed his trial sessions until recently, when three sessions have been held behind closed doors. The last session of his trial was held on August 10, 2015, and the verdict is expected to be delivered within the week.
Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who worked for the UAE newspaper The National as their Tehran correspondent, was also detained in Tehran on July 22, 2014, but Salehi was released in October 2014.
On October 29, 2014, Mohammad Javad Larijani, Head of the Iranian Judiciary’s Human Rights Council, told CNN: “Unfortunately, they [Rezaian and his wife] have been involved in activities which our security people consider [to be] activities definitely beyond journalism,” adding, “Their detention is according to the law with the order of the judges.”
However, the charges against Rezaian, of “espionage” and “cooperating with enemy states,” were only announced in late April 2015, after nine months of detention, without providing any corroborating evidence.
Saeed Abedini, another Iranian American, was detained in September 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison in January 2013. His case is a blatant reflection of the lack of religious freedom in Iran, and in particular, the authorities’ intolerance of any proselytizing religion, seeing it as a direct threat to the Shia order.
Abedini is an Iranian-American Christian convert who, after converting to Christianity in 2000, left Iran for the US. He traveled to Iran many times since his conversion, lastly in July 2012 “to visit his family and continue his work to build an orphanage,” according to his wife, when he was arrested on September 5, 2012.
On January 27, 2013, Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced him to eight years in prison for “intending to disrupt Iranian national security by establishing a network of Christian house churches.” House churches are unlicensed churches held in people’s homes due to the authorities’ refusal to issue any permits or licenses for a church.
An appeals court upheld the sentence and sent Abedini to Tehran’s Evin Prison. He was abruptly transferred to Rajaee Shahr prison on November 3, 2013, where he has been kept among dangerous criminals.
Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a US citizen whose family is from Iran, traveled to Iran for the first time on August 14, 2011, to visit family. He obtained an Iranian passport and permission to enter the country for three months from the Iranian Interest Section in Washington, DC. After two weeks in Iran, Hekmati was arrested and imprisoned in Evin Prison in Tehran, with no explanation given to his family.
In January 2012, Iran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced him to death on charges of “cooperating with an enemy state,” “membership in the CIA,” “moharebeh” (enmity with God), and “corruption on earth,” and aired a televised confession in which he claimed to be a CIA spy. His family has consistently held that he went to Iran to visit his grandmother and that he was forced to make false confessions.
Televised forced confessions in politically motivated cases, often extracted under the threat of or actual torture, are a common practice in Iran.
After an international outcry, in March 2012 Iran’s Supreme Court overturned Hekmati’s death sentence and ordered a retrial. He was sentenced to ten years in prison in April 2014, a sentence under appeal at this time.
In addition to these prisoners, Omid Kokabee, who studied in the US and thus is seen as connected to the country, has also been held unjustly and without due process in Iranian prisons.
Kokabee was a doctoral student in physics at the University of Texas at Austin at the time of his arrest on January 30, 2011, at Tehran’s International Airport, when he was leaving Iran after visiting family. He was kept in solitary confinement for over a month during his 15-month pre-trial detention without access to a lawyer.
On May 14, 2012, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for “contact with enemy states” and other falsified charges. In an open letter from Evin Prison, Kokabee wrote in 2013 that his arrest followed his refusal to cooperate with Iranian security agents on a military research project. Despite an Iranian Supreme Court’s decision rejecting the legality of Kokabee’s conviction, an appeals court upheld his ten-year sentence.
In addition to his imprisonment on trumped up charges, Kokabee suffers from heart palpitations, asthma, and kidney disease, but has been denied medical care outside the prison despite his repeated requests.
Kokabee was awarded the 2013 Andrei Sakharov Prize by the American Physical Society for “his courage in refusing to use his physics knowledge to work on projects that he deemed harmful to humanity, in the face of extreme physical and psychological pressure,” and the 2014 Freedom and Responsibility Award by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Thirty-one Nobel Prize laureates and thousands of activists have called for his release.
The IRGC (Revolutionary Guards) Intelligence Unit has been in charge of the arrests and investigations in the cases of these three Iranian-American prisoners and Omid Kokabee. All of these cases have been marked by egregious irregularities, misconduct, and blatant denial of due process.
In addition to these prisoners, who are largely victims of the hostile state of relations between Iran and the U.S., there are hundreds of other prisoners of conscience in Iran at present—many of whom have been imprisoned since the crackdown on peaceful dissent that followed the disputed presidential election in Iran in 2009.
“Whatever the Iranian authorities think they may ‘get’ from continuing to hold these prisoners,” said Ghaemi, “the international community should make it clear that the real result of the continuation of this shameful breach of justice is that Iran will remain an international outcast.”