U.S. journalist held in Iran is accused of espionage, report says

U.S. journalist held in Iran is accused of espionage, report says
Husband-and-wife journalists Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi in Tehran in 2013. Rezaian works for the Washington Post. Iran arrested them in July 2014 and has since freed Salehi. (European Pressphoto Agency)

A Washington Post journalist detained in Iran for more than eight months is accused of "espionage" and "acting against national security," the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported Sunday.

The report did not elaborate on the source of the information, but the agency is regarded as close to Iran's hard-liners.


Iranian officials have previously said that Jason Rezaian, the Post's Tehran bureau chief, is facing "security" charges and that he will stand trial before the Revolutionary Court. The court mainly hears sensitive cases involving national security.

Rezaian's lawyer, Leila Ahsan, declined to comment on the specific charges against her client, but she told the Associated Press that  she had finished studying the text of the indictment and would brief Rezaian's family in the coming days. Ahsan said she visited Rezaian in prison last month.

"He appeared to be in good health and spirits. I can see him anytime. Jason asked me to provide a strong defense. I'm in constant touch with his wife and family. I've requested that the court hold the trial as soon as possible," she said.

Rezaian, along with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and two photojournalists were detained July 22 in Tehran. All have since been released except Rezaian, a California native who is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. The Post, U.S. officials and Rezaian's family have all called for his release. When contacted, Rezaian's brother Ali declined to comment.

Reacting to the Fars report that Rezaian will face espionage charges, Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said, "Any charges of that sort would be absurd, the product of fertile and twisted imaginations."

"We are left to repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Jason, and in the meantime, we are counting on his lawyer to mount a vigorous defense," Baron said in a statement.

The Fars report alleged that Rezaian had obtained economic and industrial information from Iran and sold it to unnamed Americans. It also linked him to Omid Memarian, an independent Iranian journalist based in the United States.

"Selling Iran's economic and industrial information at a time of sanctions is exactly like selling food to the enemy at a time of war," Fars said.

In an email to the Associated Press in New York, Memarian said he had been singled out in the Fars report because he has been outspoken about Rezaian's condition and his innocence since the journalist's arrest.

"Now that the Iranian intelligence has been incapable of presenting any proof that Jason did something wrong, they spread lies about him and his colleagues-friends to influence the upcoming court," Memarian said.

Some Iran watchers have speculated that the journalist's arrest was an effort by hard-liners to embarrass the administration of President Hassan Rouhani and scuttle nuclear negotiations with six world powers. Rouhani, a moderate, has put a priority on settling the nuclear dispute with the West and thereby bringing an end to crippling economic sanctions against his country.

Western nations suspect Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing an atomic weapon. Iran insists the program is for purely peaceful purposes.

Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim and Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell contributed to this report.