Closed-door trial begins for Washington Post reporter in Iran

After 308 days in an Iranian prison, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian went on trial Tuesday on espionage charges in Tehran -- proceedings that have come under intense scrutiny for being closed to the public.

The 39-year-old Iranian-American appeared before a revolutionary court around 10:30 a.m. and the hearing wrapped for the day just two hours later, according to the state-run news agency IRNA. The trial is expected to resume at a later date, which has not been announced.

Because the hearing took place behind closed doors, little is known about what happened inside the courtroom. The reporter’s brother, Ali Rezaian, told msnbc’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday that “we know he was planning to go in and put on a strong defense, let everyone know he’s not guilty, that he’s innocent of all these charges.”

The trial comes at a politically thorny time as the U.S. and world powers try to hammer out nuclear deal with Iran. Ali Rezaian said that White House has told his family that that Obama administration is in direct communication with Iran’s foreign ministry to bring his brother home and that those discussions are parallel to, but not directly part of, the nuclear negotiations.

Rezaian, who grew up in California, was taken into custody at his Tehran home in July 2014, alongside his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and two Iranian-American friends. While Salehi was released on bail and the other two were also let go, Rezaian has remained behind bars. According to The Washington Post, the reporter’s first few months were spent in solitary confinement and he suffered from health problems behind bars.

His lawyer, Leila Ahsan, has told IRNA that Rezaian has been charged with espionage, collecting confidential information, collaborating with hostile governments, and spreading propaganda against the Islamic republic. Critics say prosecutors have not made public any evidence to support the charges.

Ali Rezaian noted his mother, who travelled to Iran to be present in the courtroom, was barred from attending the proceedings. In addition, The Washington Post’s efforts to obtain a visa to allow a senior editor to be present at the trial have gone unanswered.

The secrecy of the trial has been criticized by Rezaian’s family, press freedom groups and The Washington Post.

“There is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it, and yet the fate of a good, innocent man hangs in the balance. Iran is making a statement about its values in its disgraceful treatment of our colleague, and it can only horrify the world community,” Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron said in a statement.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also released a statement calling on Iran to ensure a fair and transparent trial for Rezaian. “Iran must end this travesty of justice immediately,” said Sherif Manour, CPJ’s Middle East and North African program coordinator.  “After more than 300 days of unwarranted detention, the least Iran could do is to release Rezaian on bail and grant his employer entry to the country and access to legal proceedings.”

Ali Rezaian surmised his brother’s trial was being held in secret because prosecutors are “covering up the fact that there’s no evidence against him for these charges.” His family has been told that Rezaian faces 10-20 years in jail if he is convicted of all the charges.

In comments made at New York University last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called Rezaian "my friend" and said he is accused of a very serious offense and I hope he is cleared in a court.” Zarif added that it was "unfortunate that some overzealous, low level operative tried to take advantage of [Rezaian],” appearing to imply that the Washington Post reporter was attempting to secure a visa for his Iranian wife to visit the United States. “The fact is that there are people who take advantage of the needs of some people who tried to get a visa to come to the United States or get a visa for their wives to come to the United States and make demands that are illegal, and dangerous and damaging to the professionalism of a journalist,” Zarif said.