Guest Editorial: Iran hostage crisis, Day 452
Anyone breathlessly racing to do business again in Iran should be aware of the name Jason Rezaian. He’s the Washington Post reporter who was convicted this week on phony charges of espionage. In a secret trial. Without a shred of evidence released.
He didn’t even hear the verdict directly. He learned of his conviction by watching state television in Iran’s notorious Evin prison.
Rezaian is a hostage in Iran. Saturday is Day 452. Rezaian has now been imprisoned longer than the 444 days that Iranian revolutionaries held 52 Americans in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and 1980.
He’s being held by a thugocracy that still considers hostage-taking to be a powerful tool in its foreign policy arsenal.
It’s a reminder that the nuclear deal signed with Iran is designed to do just two things: provide more scrutiny by international inspectors and create incentives for Iran to forego nuclear weapons. It’s not likely to thaw relations between Iran and America. It’s not likely to change the Iran regime’s behavior outside of the specific demands of the agreement.
Moreover, tensions between the U.S. and Iran are rising. Iran recently tested a ballistic missile, a possible violation of United Nations sanctions. It launched a joint military operation with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to keep the butcherous Syrian President Bashar Assad in power. It continues to fuel the conflict in Yemen, shipping aid to Houthi rebels who battle the forces of Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Across the Middle East, Iran funds terrorists and steps up its anti-U.S. campaign.
One weapon, used again and again, is the taking of hostages. American journalist Roxana Saberi, a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, was freelancing for NPR and researching a book when she was arrested in 2009 for buying a bottle of wine. The authorities concocted charges about plotting against the state. She was convicted at a sham trial, sentenced to eight years in prison, and later released in a “gesture of Islamic mercy,” Iranian authorities said. She was a hostage.
In recent weeks, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other Iranian officials have dropped hints about a prisoner swap: Rezaian and two other Iranian-American prisoners for 19 Iranian citizens held in U.S. custody for violating economic sanctions, The Washington Post reports. American officials aren’t saying if a swap is in the works.
We wouldn’t be surprised. Jailing reporters and other innocent Americans on trumped-up espionage charges and releasing them for a price is a tool of the trade for repressive regimes around the world, not just Iran. The mullahs get paid off. But they also send a message to all who enter: Tread carefully. See what happened to Jason Rezaian? You’re not safe, even if you do nothing wrong.
Iran seeks to rejoin the international community and repair its battered economy once sanctions are lifted. It will seek more tourism and outside business investment. But what assurance will tourists and business representatives have that they won’t be taken and held hostage for a price by the government? None.