Washington Post Journalist Says Iran Has Forced Him to Sleep on Concrete Floor; Prison Conditions Taking Fearsome Toll on Health

The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian at The Post’s offices in Washington on Nov. 6, 2013. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)
The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian at The Post’s offices in Washington on Nov. 6, 2013. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

The prison cell that has been Jason Rezaian’s home for most of the past 141 days has no mattress. He has slept on blankets on the hard floor and awakened each morning with back pain, for which he has received no treatment.

He suffers from chronic eye infections, which have persisted for so long that his family fears permanent damage to his vision. For more than a month, he has been afflicted by a groin inflammation so painful that he sometimes has trouble standing.

More than five months after Rezaian’s still-unexplained arrest, family members say conditions in Iran’s Evin prison are taking a fearsome toll on the 38-year-old Tehran correspondent for The Washington Post. But even worse than the physical discomforts, they say, are the psychological effects from near-total isolation and uncertainty over how long the ordeal will last. The uncertainty deepened further Sunday withIran’s announcement that formal charges — still unspecified — have been filed.

“Every day we’re in new territory,” Rezaian’s brother, Ali, a California businessman, said in an interview. “Never has a Western journalist been held this long. It’s taking a devastating toll on him, physically and mentally.”

Worry over Rezaian’s health has prompted family members to speak in unprecedented detail about his well-being as he nears the end of his fifth month in detention. In interviews, relatives spoke of his growing despair in recent weeks as Iranian officials repeatedly dangled the possibility of freedom and then took it away again.

Iranian officials have kept Rezaian in solitary confinement for most of his time in detention, never allowing him to meet his lawyer and permitting only a handful of visits with his wife and one other relative, family members say. He was not allowed to contact his U.S.-based family until two weeks ago, when he was permitted to call his mother on Thanksgiving Day.

“At first I thought he sounded great, but as we talked I could tell he wasn’t,” Mary Breme Rezaian said of the conversation. “We tried to talk about past things and previous Thanksgivings, but we both kept breaking down in tears.”

Rezaian, a San Francisco native and son of an Iranian immigrant, was arrested at his Tehran home July 22 with his wife, Iranian journalist Yeganeh Salehi. She was released on bail in October, but Iranian officials extended Rezaian’s detention for an additional two months, citing an ongoing investigation.

In Iran, the filing of formal charges sometimes can lead to a release after a bail hearing, but it also throws new uncertainty into the case, including the possibility of more delays, according to human rights experts familiar with the country’s legal system.

“In national security cases, the judge can renew temporary pretrial detention indefinitely,” said Faraz Sanei, an Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch. “And [the judge] can prevent lawyers speaking to clients or accessing files.”

No public explanation has been provided for the arrests, and Iranian officials did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment for this article.

Some experts have speculated that Rezaian has been caught up in a domestic power struggle between Iranian political factions that are feuding over Tehran’s recent diplomatic opening toward the West. Iran’s influential Human Rights Council secretary, Mohammed Javad Larijani, last week called the case a “fiasco” and expressed hope that the matter would be quickly resolved.

The Obama administration, which is engaged in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, has stepped up pressure on Iran’s government in the past week.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Sunday urged Iran to drop the charges against Rezaian, saying the journalist “poses no threat to the Iranian government or to Iran’s national security.” A State Department spokesman said Tuesday that the United States remained “committed to returning Jason Rezaian to his family, friends and loved ones.”

But with no end to the ordeal in sight, the Rezaian family’s frustration is growing. Relatives have begun to speak more candidly, drawing on details provided by visitors to paint a portrait of Rezaian’s life since his arrest. Their account, which matches descriptions by former inmates of Evin prison, depicts an endless cycle of physical deprivation, extreme isolation and frequent interrogations apparently aimed at coercing Rezaian to confess to wrongdoing.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Joby Warrick and Carol Morello

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