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Iran Imprisons Emad Shargi, Ordeal Personally Affects Jason Rezaian

NOEL KING, HOST:

Emad Shargi and his wife moved to Iran to be close to his family and the culture of his birth. And then one night in 2018, agents in plain clothes and masks raided the home where they were staying. And they took Shargi to prison. Today, he's serving 10 years for alleged national security violations. Like Shargi, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian is a citizen of both the U.S. and Iran. He spent 544 days in an Iranian prison. He was released in 2016. And he told our co-host, Steve, that his ordeal and Shargi's ordeal aren't that unique.

JASON REZAIAN: The fact of the matter is, in all of these cases, whether it's my case or the mayhap that have happened before and since, the presumption of innocence is never part of it, right? So we have to presume that he did absolutely nothing wrong and that he was targeted by virtue of the fact that he is a dual citizen of both the United States and Iran and that Iran saw a possibility to use him as leverage in future negotiations between the two governments. We've seen this happen time and time again. So I don't think that there's any reason whatsoever to give any credence to the idea that he was guilty of anything.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: So he was jailed for a while and then released but couldn't leave the country. Why?

REZAIAN: So he was arrested in April of 2018 and held in solitary confinement for some time and then in a larger cell, where he had 23 hours of confinement each day, interspersed with long interrogations without the benefit of counsel or due process in a section of Tehran's Evin Prison known as 2A, which is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards. It's a place I know well. It's where I spent the entirety of my 544 days in captivity. He was released on bail in December of 2018. His passport was not returned to him. It was one of the pieces of identification that had been confiscated when he was arrested. And he was, essentially, in limbo until some months later when he was told via a letter from Iran's judiciary that he'd been cleared of any wrongdoing.

And so it was just a waiting game until late November when his lawyer was contacted. And they were told that he had been convicted of espionage in absentia and sentenced to 10 years. It's a repeating event in Iran that people are subjected to trial, sometimes not even in person, without any evidence, without any witnesses, without the opportunity to defend themselves and given this sentence.

INSKEEP: You think that this is the latest man taken as a bargaining chip. What would Iran want in exchange for someone like this?

REZAIAN: Well, Steve, currently, there are dozens of Iranian nationals being held in U.S. prison on all sorts of different types of charges. There are people being held for sanctions-related violations. If you recall, when I was released in 2016, it was part of the prisoner swap in which several Iranians who were being held on such charges were released at the same time as me and other Americans being held in Iran. But there are also, you know, higher-value targets, people who've been convicted of terrorism plots here in the U.S. But ultimately, you know, I think, if we look at the 40-year history of U.S. and Iran relations after the birth of the Islamic Republic, hostage-taking has been an essential component of Iran's foreign policy. And oftentimes, they don't know exactly what it is that they want when they take somebody hostage. They just know that they might be worth something later on.

INSKEEP: Jason Rezaian, thanks so much. It's good talking with you again.

REZAIAN: It's always a pleasure, Steve. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.