Magazine article The New Yorker

Telling the Story

Magazine article The New Yorker

Telling the Story

Article excerpt

TELLING THE STORY

A year ago, at the Cannes film festival, Leila Hatami, an Iranian movie star best known in this country for her role in "A Separation," was walking the red carpet, wearing a gold-embroidered turban and a matching long-sleeved dress, when she encountered Gilles Jacob, the festival's president. She reached out to shake his hand, but he kissed her on the cheek, and that, as the Washington Post's Tehran correspondent, Jason Rezaian, wrote, is when the "fuss" began back home. Certain factions in Iran had portrayed the kiss as an affront to Islam; a student group called for the actress to be publicly flogged. Rezaian, a thirty-nine-year-old Californian who had been working in Iran for six years, wrote that Hatami had apologized in a statement in which she said that she regretted "hurting the feelings of some people." She had not wanted to be kissed. Jacob, she said, had simply forgotten the "rules."

Eight weeks after the story ran, Rezaian himself was under arrest in Tehran, and it was hard to say what rules he may have transgressed--no charges were made public. His writing about Iran had been marked by cultural generosity and care. One of the last stories he wrote before he was jailed was about Iran's tiny but emerging baseball scene, in which he described the players' love of the game and the impact of the economic sanctions on their aspirations. ("Catcher's mitts and gloves for left-handers are scarce.") Rezaian is a dual citizen--his father was Iranian--and those who know him say that he did not intend to insult or injure Iran, though he had no interest in whitewashing it, either; another recent Post story he wrote was about how government mismanagement had precipitated a water crisis.

Rezaian's wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who is an Iranian citizen and a reporter for the National , an English-language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, was arrested at the same time. She was eventually released on bail, but for the past ten months Rezaian has been held at the Evin prison, which is notorious for its many executions and its abuse of political prisoners. His mother, Mary Rezaian, was allowed just two brief visits with him five months ago, and he has spent a substantial amount of time in solitary confinement. Joel Simon, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, has called him the victim of a "judicial kidnapping."

Rezaian's trial began last Tuesday, just a few weeks after his family finally learned what crimes he may have been charged with: espionage, collaborating with hostile governments, and "propaganda against the establishment." Even then, the news came through a lawyer whom Rezaian had not chosen and who has met with him only briefly. The proceedings, held in Revolutionary Court Branch 15, are off limits to the public. The charges, which carry a possible sentence of up to twenty years, have no apparent basis in fact--which may be why the government is choosing to pillory in secret a man whose profession was openness. The judge, Abolghassem Salavati, is known for condemning dissidents to death and for having presided over a mass trial in which scores of activists and journalists were compelled to give televised confessions. In Rezaian's case, after a few hours of questioning behind closed doors, Salavati adjourned the trial indefinitely. …

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