Friday 20 February 2015 Nargess Tavassolian
Judge Blocks Progress in Jason Rezaian Case
A judge has repeatedly blocked the lawyer handling the case of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Washington Post journalist currently in prison in Iran. In an interview with IranWire, prominent lawyer Masoud Shafii describes how he has attempted to progress the journalist’s case since his family appointed him earlier this month. But authorities have presented him with a number of obstacles, and he has been denied access to his client. The office of Judge Salavati, who presides over the court where Rezaian’s case is being handled, also informed Shafii that he had been thrown off the case.
On July 22, 2014, the Iranian-American Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was arrested along with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, in Tehran. After two months, Salehi was released on bail, but 38-year-old Jason Rezaian remains in custody.
In September 2014, an Iranian security official told IranWire that Rezaian had been forced to confess. Then, on February 17 2015, Hamid Resaee, a member of parliament for Tehran and the deputy head of Iran's Parliament’s Article 90, urged Iranian state media to broadcast the confession so the public could hear Rezaian’s confession “in his own words.”
On January 23, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency reported the Rezaian had been charged. It did not specify what the charges were, but some international media reported that they related to espionage. Masoud Shafii has taken on a number of high profile political cases, including that of the three US hikers arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan near the Iranian border in 2009.
I spoke to Masoud Shafii regarding Jason Rezaian’s case.
How did Jason Rezaian become your client?
When Jason Rezaian’s family came to me for the first time, they told me that I was their first option, but that they had been told by the authorities that my license had been revoked, and that I could not take Jason’s case (or any other cases). But this was not true. My license has never been revoked. In October, as a protest against the ruling of the Lawyers’ Disciplinary Court, which put a three-year ban on Nasrin Soutoudeh’s legal practice, I decided not to renew my license. But when I heard that Rezaian’s family wanted me to take up their case, I renewed it.
About 10 or 12 days ago, when they realized that my license had not been revoked, the family contacted me through Jason’s wife [Yeganeh Salehi] and asked me to take the case. I accepted. After that, Yeganeh contacted me and asked to see me. Since then, we have met six or seven times and have discussed the details of the case.
The last time I saw Yeganeh, she told me that a female lawyer had contacted her and had insisted that she represent Jason. Yeganeh had previously assigned her as her own lawyer, because she had the feeling that the court approved of her and that, because of the court’s approval, she might be able to advance her case. But regarding Jason, both Jason and Yeganeh, and also Jason’s brother and mother, asked me. I asked for their instruction to take on the case in writing so that I could submit it to the relevant branch of the court. I took the request, in both English and Persian, along with the bill that I had prepared, to Judge Salavati, the presiding judge of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court. I requested a meeting with Jason.
As you might know, one must get permission before entering Branch 15. Apparently, Judge Salavati knew in advance that I was coming to meet him and had asked not to let me in. It might not be surprising to hear that he wanted to hide himself from me; he did not want to meet with me.
I persisted for a couple of days. When I realized that I was not going to be allowed to see my client, I issued a complaint to Mr Movahedy, the Head of the Revolutionary Court. He referred my complaint to his judicial assistant, the deputy justice. The deputy justice then told me to leave and said he would convey my request to Judge Salavati.
I left and came back the following day. The deputy told me that Judge Salavati had said that Jason Rezaian’s family did not want me on the case and had chosen another lawyer. I told the deputy justice what had happened: that I had just talked to Jason’s mother and brother before coming there and they insisted that I was their lawyer. “Also,” I said, “if you read the letter I attached to the file, you can see that they have instructed me.” The deputy said that this was the order of Judge Salavati and that he could do nothing about it. I protested: “Look, first of all, Jason does not have another lawyer. Secondly, he can have more than one lawyer. The judge is not allowed to interfere in these matters. This is a matter between the accused and his lawyer. Article 35 of Iran’s constitution also acknowledges this right. The fact that you have Jason in custody does not mean that that you can deny him the right to choose a counsel of his own. I must meet with him so that he can sign the power of attorney and I can officially work on his case.”
The deputy justice again insisted that he could not do anything about the matter, but said that, if I wanted, I could make a complaint against Judge Salavati to the Judges’ Disciplinary Court. I said, “I do not have much time. I need to study my client’s case as soon as possible. Besides, I am not sure my complaint to the Judges’ Disciplinary Court will go anywhere.”
When I came out of his office, I received a call from Jason’s brother [Ali] and his mother. I told them what I had been told. They got very upset and insisted that they had not assigned any other lawyer to the case. I thought maybe Yeganeh had dismissed me, because I remembered she had talked about a female lawyer who had approached her and insisted that she take up her case, and Jason’s. She had managed to persuade Yeganeh to assign her as a lawyer. I thought maybe Yeganeh wanted to choose her. I told Ali this, but Ali said, “ No, she would never do such a thing. Even if she did, we would not accept it.”
That night, Yeganeh called me. I told her about what had happened and about Salavati’s message. I asked her if she had dismissed me from the case and whether she had chosen another lawyer. She said no, that she still wanted me to take up Jason’s case. But she seemed a bit hesitant.
What can you tell me about Rezaian’s forced confession?
These confessions do not have any legal basis, because a confession should be given in front of a judge. A confession that is made during interrogations is not valid. Many people who have confessed during their interrogations have renounced their confessions once they have been released. Unfortunately, these confessions have been manipulated for political aims.
Do you know about the charges against Jason Rezaian? He has been in detention for seven months. Is this period of detention legal?
I still haven’t read his case. Some newspapers have reported that the charge is espionage. It is true that this is a heavy charge, but Iranian authorities should know that if Jason gets acquitted or is sentenced to a crime for which the punishment is less than the time he has served in detention, they will be held responsible.