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Trial In Iran Nears For 'Washington Post' Reporter Jason Rezaian


An American goes on trial tomorrow in Iran. He is Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. He is accused of vaguely defined espionage charges. Rezaian is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen and will be tried along with his Iranian wife and a photographer. He's been held for some 10 months with only a single visit from his lawyer. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Istanbul in neighboring Turkey. He's been following this case. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: And Peter, remind us quickly about what this all is about and what we know about the spying charges.

KENYON: Well, Jason Rezaian's been reporting in Iran since after he moved there in 2008. He was born and raised in California. He seemed to be doing very well. I remember seeing him in Europe last summer at the Iran nuclear talks and then reading just days later that he'd been arrested back in Tehran. He's only had the one visit from the lawyer. She says she learned of his trial date in the media. The charges are still vague. There is one conservative media site saying that one of the allegations is that he told Western officials about some evading sanctions plans by Iran, but we won't know that until we hear the prosecutor's case and maybe not even then. We're not sure if this will be a public trial or not.

MONTAGNE: Well, tell us about the judge who will be hearing this case of Jason Rezaian.

KENYON: Revolutionary Court Judge Abolghassem Salavati. He's known to Iranian activists as the judge of death for the way he hands out sentences. Analysts say he's used to handle politically sensitive cases. I've spoken with some Iranians who have fled the country after being in the revolutionary court, including one who stood before Judge Salavati. He says that trial seemed very scripted with the judge just reading what was put in front of him, and this is the man who will decide, among other things, whether this case of Jason Rezaian will be open to the public or not.

MONTAGNE: And do the wider tensions between Iran and the U.S. play into this case?

KENYON: It's certainly possible. There's been a lot of speculation about that. Some think it could be leverage in the ongoing nuclear talks. The Washington Post editorial board on Friday said maybe it's an internal power struggle between Iranian pragmatists and hardliners. And the system's so opaque that we're probably going to hear more theories like that along the way.

MONTAGNE: And, Peter, American officials from President Obama on down have called for Jason Rezaian's release - any chance of that happening?

KENYON: People who've been following the case say it's probably unrealistic to expect an acquittal at this point if they're going forward. What could happen is a pardon after a conviction. That would be up to the supreme leader. His office tweeted today, by the way, that more than a hundred military convicts are being pardoned in their cases or having their sentences commuted. Whether that would happen with a U.S. citizen is more sensitive, but some people are pinning their hopes on that at the moment.

MONTAGNE: Speaking to NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. He's been following the case of Jason Rezaian, an American going on trial in Iran. Thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.