(CNSNews.com) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is “a boldfaced liar,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said Monday in responding to an Iranian state media report saying that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, accused of espionage and jailed in Iran for more than 14 months, has been convicted.
Royce recalled that Zarif, in a U.S. television interview last April, stated that “we do not jail people for their opinions.”
“He’s a boldfaced liar,” Royce said. “At every step, there has been absolutely no transparency in Jason's so-called trial. His sentencing is another sham step in a sham process.”
Iranian state television quoted judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei as saying Rezaian had been convicted at the end of his Tehran's Revolutionary Court trial, although he did not provide details on the verdict or sentencing.
Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron called the outcome “contemptible.”
“Iran has behaved unconscionably throughout this case, but never more so than with this indefensible decision by a Revolutionary Court to convict an innocent journalist of serious crimes after a proceeding that unfolded in secret, with no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing,” he said in a statement.
Baron said there would be an appeal.
Rezaian is one of four American citizens incarcerated or missing in Iran. The others are Pastor Saeed Abedini, sentenced in 2013 to eight years’ imprisonment for “crimes against national security”; former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, reportedly sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for “cooperating with hostile governments” (an earlier death sentence for spying was overturned); and retired FBI agent Bob Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since 2007.
The Obama administration came under strong criticism for not linking their fate to the Iran nuclear deal, although it said officials raised the matter frequently on the sidelines of the nuclear talks.
Zarif, who led Iran’s negotiating team in the talks opposite Secretary of State John Kerry, was asked about the imprisonment of journalists during an interview with Charlie Rose last spring.
“We do not jail people for their opinions,” Zarif replied.
He said the government has a plan to improve human rights, “but people who commit crimes, who violate the laws of a country, cannot hide behind being a journalist or being a political activist. People have to observe the law.”
Zarif said people should “respect the rule of law and to allow the political process, the judicial process in Iran to run its course. And I believe that at the end of the day everybody will be best served by that.”
Rose said, “Well, I hope so. Because the reporter that I know from the Washington Post is going through that judicial process as we speak.”
(Zarif’s comment about not jailing people for opinions drew a strong response from human rights groups who said hundreds of Iranians are imprisoned for their views. They include two reformist candidates from the 2009 presidential election, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi, both of whom have been under house arrest for more than four years.)
Like much else to do with his behind-closed-doors trial, exactly what Rezaian was accused of has been vague.
In April, Rezaian’s lawyer said the indictment accused her client of espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments,” “propaganda against the establishment” and collecting classified information.
Baron said at the time Iran had provided no evidence of wrongdoing on Rezaian’s part, and that most of the reporter’s coverage “focused on the culture and daily life of people in Iran.”
Last week, Iran’s official IRNA news agency said that, according to a report on Rezaian compiled by the intelligence body of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, he had been “commissioned to implement the mentality of those U.S. senators who believe if the Americans would manage to restore the level of its relations to the pre-Islamic Revolution era, then the Iranian revolutionary political system would easily be overthrown.”
Royce on Monday accused the Iranian regime of having contempt for human rights and for the United States – and criticized the Obama administration as well.
“Both in its nuclear negotiations and its consideration of Americans detained in Iran, the administration has shown a dangerous naivety regarding who it is dealing with,” he said. “The administration didn’t get Jason released when it had the leverage of the nuclear agreement. It must redouble efforts to get Jason and the other imprisoned Americans home now.”
Last month Democratic opposition defeated a Republican measure in the Senate prohibiting the lifting of sanctions on Iran until the regime released the U.S. citizens in its custody and recognized Israel’s right to exist.