Iran sentences US journalist to prison

AP News
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Posted: Nov 22, 2015 1:43 PM
Iran sentences US journalist to prison

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has sentenced detained Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian to an unspecified prison term following his conviction last month on charges that include espionage, Iranian state TV reported Sunday.

Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, the spokesman for Iran's judiciary, announced the punishment in a statement on the TV station's website.

"In brief, it is a prison sentence," he said. The verdict is "not finalized," he added, referring to an expected appeal.

Ejehi was responding to a question from a local reporter at a weekly news conference. He said the verdict has not been officially communicated to Rezaian or his lawyer.

Rezaian's lawyer, Leila Ahsan, told The Associated Press she had not been informed of the verdict — let alone details of the sentence.

"I have no information about details of the verdict," she said. "We were expecting the verdict some three months ago."

Rezaian was detained with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and two photojournalists on July 22, 2014. All were later released except Rezaian, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen.

Rezaian went on trial in four closed-door court hearings at Tehran's Revolutionary Court, which hears cases related to national security. Last month, he was convicted of spying and other charges.

The Post has vigorously denied the accusations against its correspondent.

"We're aware of the reports in the Iranian media, but have no further information at this time," Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl said in a statement.

"Every day that Jason is in prison is an injustice. He has done nothing wrong. Even after keeping Jason in prison 488 days so far, Iran has produced no evidence of wrongdoing. His trial and sentence are a sham, and he should be released immediately."

Rezaian, who has covered Iran for the Post since 2012, grew up in Marin County, California and spent most of his life in the United States. The Post, U.S. officials and Rezaian's family have all called for his release. Iran does not recognize dual-nationality.

"By withholding information about the verdict and sentence, the Iranian government shows that its pursuit of Jason Rezaian on bogus espionage charges is nothing but a facade to prolong his unjust imprisonment," said Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"The authorities should immediately drop all charges against Jason Rezaian and release him, along with all journalists imprisoned in Iran in relation to their work," he said.

The CPJ says 30 journalists were behind bars in Iran in 2014, making it the second worst jailer of reporters, after China.

Iran's state media, citing the indictment, have said Rezaian collected information on Iranian and foreign individuals and companies circumventing sanctions and passed them on to the U.S. government. Iranian state TV has repeatedly called Rezaian an "American spy."

Earlier this month, the intelligence department of the powerful elite Revolutionary Guard claimed in a report to parliament that Rezaian is an agent seeking to "overthrow" Iran's Islamic ruling system.

His incarceration and trial played out as Iran and six world powers, including the U.S., negotiated a landmark agreement in which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iranian media in August quoted officials discussing the possibility of swapping Americans detained in Iran for 19 Iranians held in the U.S. It's unclear, however, whether that's been seriously discussed between Iranian and U.S. officials.

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Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Cairo contributed to this report.