US reporter to face Iran spy charges next week

US reporter to face Iran spy charges next week
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Tehran (AFP) - The Washington Post's Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, in custody for 10 months, will appear in court next week accused of spying and other crimes against Iran, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Rezaian's wife, Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian who is also a journalist, and another suspect -- both of whom are currently on bail -- have also been summoned to the court in the capital on May 26.

Rezaian, an Iranian-American, was arrested in July last year in a politically sensitive case that has unfolded while Iran and world powers conduct nuclear talks.

The 39-year-old was formally charged last month with espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against Iran.

The United States and the Post have branded the charges against him absurd, urging his release.

But Leila Ahsan, Rezaian's lawyer, who has said the file against the reporter contains "no justifiable proof", confirmed the court date.

"It seems that all three will appear together," she told AFP.

"If there is sufficient time, the trial will start but if not the proceedings will be dealt with in another court session."

Rezaian's case has been played out in the Iranian media, where he has been accused of spying and passing information about Iran to US government officials.

Among the offences he is alleged to have committed is writing a letter to US President Barack Obama.

Ahsan, who previously criticised Iranian news outlets for publishing unsubstantiated accusations against Rezaian, again hit out on Tuesday.

"I was not informed but after seeing the news on the media, I called the court and found that the date had been set," she said.

The case will be handled by one of Iran's revolutionary courts, which have jurisdiction over crimes against national security and hold their proceedings behind closed doors.

- Other Americans also jailed -

Rezaian was detained in Tehran on July 22, along with Salehi, then working for The National, an English language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, and two others, one of whom had worked as a photographer for the Post.

Salehi was released on bail after spending two and a half months in custody. The other two suspects were also bailed but no allegations against any of the three have ever been stated.

The official IRNA news agency carried a report quoting a judiciary official that suggested Rezaian, Salehi and the third suspect would all face charges.

"May 26 is the day when Jason Rezaian's court session together with two other accused will be held at branch 15 of the prosecutor’s office and of the Tehran Revolutionary Court," it said.

Rezaian is being held in the capital's notorious Evin Prison and his family have frequently spoken of their fears for his health, citing his need for medication to combat high blood pressure.

Born in California to an Iranian father and American mother, he is one of four US citizens that Obama has urged Iran to return home.

On May 12, the US Senate passed a resolution calling for Iran to release them.

The other detained Americans are pastor Saeed Abedini, in jail for more than two years after being convicted of undermining national security, and former US Marine Amir Hekmati, who is serving a 10-year sentence for cooperating with hostile governments.

A fourth American, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, remains missing after mysteriously vanishing in Iran eight years ago.

On April 2, Iran and world powers agreed on the outlines of a deal to end a 12-year standoff over concerns that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, an allegation it denies.

A final agreement is due by June 30.

Rezaian's case has been a sideshow to the nuclear talks -- with both Iranian and US officials seeking to keep it separate.

But if the reporter's trial does start at next week's hearing, it could overlap with the six weeks remaining to seal a deal.

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