DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian has had an "unacceptable lack of access to legal counsel" while jailed for nearly nine months in Iran and still has not had a substantive discussion with his lawyer, the newspaper's executive editor said Tuesday.
Formal charges against the journalist have not been made public. Iran's semiofficial Fars news agency, which is seen as close to hard-liners in the Islamic Republic, reported this week that he is accused of "espionage" and "acting against national security."
The Post's executive editor, Martin Baron, said in a statement that Rezaian only met defense lawyer Leila Ahsan once weeks ago before she had officially been named as his attorney. He said they were not allowed to discuss the case or the charges the correspondent faces.
Rezaian and his lawyer are scheduled to meet next week, according to Baron. The journalist's family has been told that session will be limited to one hour and will be their only meeting allowed in preparation for a trial that could begin in early May.
"The idea that Jason — or anyone — could be allowed only one hour with a lawyer before standing trial on serious charges is simply appalling," Baron said. "These kinds of Kafkaesque restrictions reflect the abject unfairness that Iran has shown at every turn in its handling of Jason's case."
Rezaian, 39, was arrested on July 22 along with his Iranian wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who is a reporter for The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, and two other journalists whose names have not been made public. All but Rezaian have since been released.
Rezaian, the Post's correspondent in Iran since 2012, holds Iranian and American citizenship, and was born and spent most of his life in the United States. Iran does not recognize dual nationality for its citizens.
U.S. officials have repeatedly urged Iran to release Rezaian and other Americans jailed in Iran, including during talks on the sidelines of negotiations about the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
President Barack Obama mentioned Rezaian and two other American citizens held in Iran by name in a statement calling for their release that coincided with the Persian New Year, or Nowruz, holiday last month — a message that also asked Iran for help in finding Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing from an Iranian resort eight years ago.
Rezaian's family, press freedom advocates and the Post itself have also pressed for his release.
Rezaian's family had previously sought to hire a different lawyer, Masoud Shafiei. He has experience dealing with sensitive cases involving foreigners, including three American hikers arrested by Iranian authorities in 2009.
Shafiei was prevented from dropping off paperwork that Rezaian had to sign to enlist his services, leaving the family little choice but to choose an alternative attorney. They have expressed hope that Shafiei might still be part of Rezaian's legal team.
Ahsan told The Associated Press this week that she had met with Rezaian and "can see him anytime." She said she is in constant touch with his wife and family and has requested that the court hear his case as soon as possible. She declined to comment on the specific charges he faces.
Baron, however, said Ahsan was misunderstood.
"Jason has still not held a substantive discussion with Leila. Their only meeting took place several weeks ago in a judge's chambers before Leila had formally been designated as his counsel," he said.
Asked about the case by the AP during a visit to Madrid, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Rezaian will have "full access to his lawyers." He did not say whether that was currently the case.
"We believe that allowing the judicial process to work through the normal procedure without trying to influence the process from outside would be much more helpful," Zarif said Tuesday.
The envoy added that Iranian judicial officials "believe that the charges against him are very serious."
Associated Press writer Alan Clendenning in Madrid contributed reporting.
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