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Closed-door trial in Iran of Washington Post reporter begins

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iranian security court on Tuesday began the closed-door espionage trial of an Iranian-American reporter for The Washington Post who has been detained for more than 10 months.

Jason Rezaian, the Post’s 39-year-old bureau chief in Tehran, is being tried in a Revolutionary Court on allegations of “espionage for the hostile government of the United States” and propaganda against the Islamic Republic, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.

The IRNA report did not elaborate. Rezaian’s brother, Ali Rezaian, later told The Associated Press in Washington that the proceeding largely involved him hearing the charges. Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan, could not be reached for comment.

The Post has said Rezaian faces from 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Rezaian, his wife Yeganeh Salehi and two photojournalists were detained on July 22 in Tehran. All were later released except Rezaian, who was born and spent most of his life in the United States, and who holds both American and Iranian citizenship. Iran does not recognize other nationalities for its citizens.

Salehi, wearing a traditional black Islamic veil, refused to talk to waiting reporters as she left the courthouse after the hearing Tuesday. She looked upset and covered her face with the scarf as she departed in a yellow taxi, sitting in the back seat next to an older woman. The Post later reported Rezaian’s mother, Mary Rezaian, had accompanied her to court, but also could not attend.

Last week, Rezaian’s lawyer said Salehi, who is a reporter for The National newspaper in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi, and a freelance photographer who worked for foreign media, also will stand trial. The photographer’s name has not been made public.

The Post and U.S. diplomats have criticized Rezaian’s detention and the handling of the case. Salehi has been barred from traveling abroad, the Post said, adding that its requests for a visa for a senior editor to travel to Iran went unanswered.

“There is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it, and yet the fate of a good, innocent man hangs in the balance,” Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said in a statement. “Iran is making a statement about its values in its disgraceful treatment of our colleague, and it can only horrify the world community.”

Ali Rezaian said he believed Iranian authorities had two main documents they were using at his brother’s trial.

One was a form letter Rezaian submitted online in 2008 after the election of U.S. President Barack Obama, offering to help “break down barriers” between America and Iran, his brother said. The other was an American visa application he filled out for his wife that asked for it to be expedited at the time because of a looming Iranian election, noting “sometimes it’s not the best place to be as a journalist,” his brother said.

“There are other specific pieces of evidence that we believe that they are going to use to support the charges, but what I can say is that those are two of the most significant ones,” Ali Rezaian said. “So I think you can see what kinds of evidence they are basing their entire case on, and that’s taken 310 days of my brother’s life.”

U.S. officials repeatedly have pressed Iran to release Rezaian and other jailed Americans, including during talks on the sidelines of negotiations over Tehran’s contested nuclear program. Iran and world powers hope to reach a comprehensive agreement on the program by the end of June to ease economic sanctions on Tehran in exchange for it limiting its uranium enrichment.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said diplomats would continue to raise Rezaian’s case and those of other detained Americans at nuclear negotiations.

“We continue to call for all of the absurd charges to be dropped and for Jason Rezaian to be released immediately,” Rathke said.

The judge assigned to hear Rezaian’s case, Abolghassem Salavati, is known for his tough sentencing. He has presided over numerous politically sensitive cases, including those of protesters arrested in connection with demonstrations that followed the 2009 presidential elections.

IRNA said Rezaian’s hearing ended after a few hours, and that Salavati would decide on the date of the next one, without providing further details.

His brother said Rezaian just wants to prove his innocence.

“He’d never do anything malicious to hurt Iran, or the United States,” Ali Rezaian said. “And we want to be as loud and clear to everybody in the world.”

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Associated Press writers Tracy Brown and Matthew Lee in Washington and Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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