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Washington Post hits back at Iran over reporter claims

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian speaks in the newspaper's offices in Washington in a Nov. 6, 2013, photo provided by The Washington Post.

Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post/Handout via Reuters

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Post hit back Thursday at Iran's allegation that a jailed journalist wrote a letter to President Obama.

The newspaper's executive editor, Martin Baron, said in a statement that Post reporter Jason Rezaian never wrote directly to the White House. Shortly after the 2008 election, Baron said, Rezaian filled out an online job application but was never hired. Three years later, he began reporting for the Post.

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 has reported. The Post has said he faces 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that a Farsi translation of what it described as a letter to Mr. Obama was read aloud, including this sentence: "In Iran, I'm in contact with simple laborers to influential mullahs."

Baron issued a statement Thursday disputing Iran's depiction of the document.

"We want to set the record straight about correspondence that Iranian authorities have cited in their case," Baron's statement said.

Baron said Rezaian received an unsigned, form response by email to his online job application and was never hired. He continued work as a freelance journalist in Tehran until he began reporting for the Post in 2012 as its full-time Tehran correspondent.

"Jason never wrote directly to President Obama and was never hired by the Obama administration," Baron said.

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.