TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A Washington Post reporter jailed for nearly nine months in Iran faces charges of espionage and three other crimes, his lawyer revealed Monday following her first in-depth meeting with the journalist.
The Post, citing a statement from defense lawyer Leila Ahsan, said Jason Rezaian also faces charges of "conducting propaganda against the establishment," ''collaborating with hostile governments" and "collecting information about internal and foreign policy and providing them to individuals with malicious intent."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ahsan described the journalist as being in good spirits and health, but said his continued detention alongside other inmates and a lack of access to outside media has taken a toll on his well-being.
Ahsan's comments were the first confirmation of the exact charges Rezaian faces.
Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said in a statement that Ahsan's meeting with Rezaian on Monday lasted 90 minutes and was conducted in the presence of an official translator. Baron said the charges, which he described as "ludicrous," carry a maximum penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison.
"It is absurd and despicable to assert, as Iran's judiciary is now claiming, that Jason's work first as a freelance reporter and then as the Post's Tehran correspondent amounted to espionage or otherwise posed any threat to Iranian national security," Baron said.
Rezaian's lawyer said his continued imprisonment without bail is unjustified.
"There is no legal basis for continuing his detention," she told the AP. No trial date has been set, she added.
Earlier Monday, the official IRNA news agency quoted Gholamhossein Esmaili, the director-general of the Tehran provincial justice department, saying Rezaian's case had been referred to a branch of Revolutionary Court. He said the process of bringing the case to trial had been prolonged because "the case has various aspects and (the case file) is thick."
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, though Baron said Salehi also faces "an impending trial on an equally baseless charge."
The Post has repeatedly criticized its reporter's detention and the limits on his access to legal assistance. Baron said the judge hearing the case, Abolghassem Salavati, rejected "several initial choices" of lawyers for Rezaian.
Among them was Masoud Shafiei, who represented three American hikers arrested by Iranian authorities in 2009. He however was prevented from completing the formalities needed to represent Rezaian, leading the family to eventually hire Ahsan. She only met him once briefly, before she had officially been named as his attorney, prior to Monday's meeting.
"We continue to believe that Jason's defense team should be permitted to grow to include additional lawyers of his choosing," Baron said.
Judge Salavati has presided over a number of politically charged cases, including those of protesters arrested in connection with demonstrations that followed the 2009 presidential elections. He is known for his tough sentencing.
Deputy U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday if the reports were true, the charges are "patently absurd" and should be dropped immediately and Rezaian should be freed.
"He should immediately be freed so he can return to his family. The charges should immediately be dismissed," Harf said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the charges against Rezaian are absurd, should be dismissed, and that he should be released to his family.
Washington has pressed 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.
Rezaian's detention and possible trial comes as Iran negotiates with world powers over its contested nuclear program.
Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.