UN petition seeks release of reporter held in Iran

Washington (AFP) - The Washington Post filed a UN petition Wednesday seeking the release of its correspondent Jason Rezaian by Iran, as the dual-national journalist began a second year behind bars.

The US daily said it hopes the petition filed with the UN Human Rights Council's working group on arbitrary detention will help secure the release of the reporter, who has been accused of espionage.

The petition "makes clear that Jason's detention is arbitrary and unlawful under both Iranian and international law," said Jay Kennedy, general counsel for the newspaper, at a news conference where activists marked the anniversary of his detention.

"Given the complete lack of evidence that Jason has committed any crime, we expect the working group to conclude as we have that the government of Iran arrested and detained Jason for his work as a journalist ... and find that detention completely unlawful."

The Post and human rights activists pressing for Rezaian's release said they hoped the international panel would increase pressure on Tehran to free the journalist, whose health has been declining.

The reporter's brother Ali Rezaian, who also spoke at the Washington news conference, said that Tehran's "illegal detention of Jason has not gone unnoticed."

"Since the first day of his detention, the Iranian government has consistently denied Jason his rights under the Iranian constitution, Islamic law and Iran's longstanding international obligations," Ali Rezaian said.

Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron said Rezaian "has been subjected to a sham trial on trumped-up charges of espionage and other supposed offenses."

Baron said that over the past year, "no evidence has been produced of espionage or any other office," and added that "it is clear as it has been all along that Jason did nothing wrong."

- Trial seen near end -

Rezaian, 39, faces charges including "espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic republic," according to his lawyer.

After three trial sessions since late May, the "slow-motion judicial process" may soon come to an end, Baron said in a statement released earlier Monday.

His lawyer Leila Ahsan has been told by the Iranian authorities "that the next hearing will 'almost certainly' be the last, though no date has yet been set," he added.

Rezaian was arrested with his wife Yeganeh Salehi, also a journalist, at their home on July 22, 2014.

Salehi and a photographer who was arrested on the same day were released on bail after two and a half months in custody.

Jason's American mother Mary has expressed hope her son will also be freed on bail.

"He is not a murderer. He is not a spy. This type of detention is hurting him. It's hurting his family. We want him on bail, released, with his family," she told reporters outside the court after the latest trial session on July 13.

Rezaian's relatives have frequently expressed fears for his health, citing his need for medication to combat high blood pressure.

His lawyer and media have been barred from revealing any details about the case.

Rezaian's detention is politically sensitive because of his dual nationality, which Iran does not recognize.

The United States, one of six world powers which recently struck a nuclear agreement with Iran, has repeatedly called for his release.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the negotiations with Iran to curb its disputed nuclear program, told MSNBC he had raised the issue with the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif every time they met.