Letter to Obama cited at Washington Post reporter's trial in Iran

In this photo taken on April 11, 2013, Jason Rezaian, right, an Iranian-American correspondent for the Washington Post, and his wife Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian correspondent for the Abu Dhabi-based daily newspaper The National, smile as they attend a presidential campaign of President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran.

Vahid Salemi, AP

TEHRAN, Iran -- A letter a detained Washington Post journalist wrote to U.S. President Barack Obama and a trip he made to the U.S. Consulate in Dubai have become major topics of his espionage trial in Iran.


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

The Post, U.S. diplomats and media rights organizations have criticized Rezaian's detention and the handling of the case. His trial also comes amid ongoing negotiations between Iran and world powers over its contested nuclear program.

At his first hearing Tuesday, Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that a Farsi translation of the letter Rezaian wrote to Obama was read aloud. The agency said one passage read: "In Iran, I'm in contact with simple laborers to influential mullahs."

Mehr said the letter also talked about Rezaian's "network of contacts inside Iran." The agency also reported Judge Abolghassem Salavati questioned Rezaian about his contact with the U.S. Consulate in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Rezaian's brother, Ali Rezaian, earlier told The Associated Press in Washington the letter was an online form letter his brother wrote after Obama's election in 2008 and that he visited the consulate to get a U.S. visa for his wife.

Mehr said Rezaian rejected the charges against him during the hearing.

"I'm only a journalist," Mehr quoted Rezaian as saying. "All my activities were as a journalist and all were legal."

Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron told CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the charges against Rezaian are "completely preposterous," and he fears the trial will not be fair.

"He was put into solitary confinement for many months, under very harsh conditions in the worst prison in Iran," Baron told CBS News. "He's only been able to meet with his lawyer for an hour and a half."

"While we still retain hope, we don't have a lot of confidence," Baron added.

Mehr also reported the judge questioned Rezaian about his contacts with American journalist Lara Setrakian, which the agency said asked him to provide reports on his assessment of the political, economic and social situation in Iran to her to be forwarded to U.S. government officials.

Setrakian, a journalist who co-founded of the website SyriaDeeply, strongly rejected the allegation Wednesday.

"As journalists, Jason and I have spoken often about the Middle East, but at no point did we prepare reports for the White House or do anything aside from professional reporting," she said in a statement.

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 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.

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.

Secretary of State John Kerry has lobbied for Rezaian's release personally on the sidelines of the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Tehran, and last month, Mr. Obama promised action.

"We remember the journalists unjustly imprisoned around the world, including our own Jason Rezaian," Mr. Obama said at the White House Correspondents Dinner. "Jason's brother Ali is here tonight and I have told him personally we will not rest until we bring him home to his family, safe and sound."