WASHINGTON (CN) – Expert witnesses took the stand Wednesday for a second day of hours-long testimony in Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian’s case against the Islamic Republic of Iran, where he was held captive for a year and a half.
Rezaian was working as a journalist for the Washington Post in Tehran when, in 2014, he was arrested on accusations of being a spy and held for 18 months at Iran’s Evin Prison – with virtually no evidence to support his captivity.
After 544 days of alleged partial solitary confinement, torture, a sham trial and coerced false confessions on Iranian public television, Rezaian was released in January 2016 – just months after the Iran nuclear deal was signed in July 2015.
In the final hour of Wednesday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon would only allow two of Rezaian’s three expert witnesses to testify.
For the first witness – Mehdi Khalaji, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – Judge Leon asked counsel to take the lunch recess to “redefine” Khalaji’s qualifications before they could continue questioning, skeptical of his ability to speak about the Iranian government’s intentions in capturing Rezaian without having any inside Iranian contacts.
When court returned from recess, Khalaji was allowed to explain that Iran’s capture of Rezaian fit into a pattern of behavior that not only is meant to intimidate U.S.-Iranian dual citizens, but also push other countries to pay closer attention to Iranian demands.
The fact that Rezaian’s release from prison coincided with the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, according to witnesses, isn’t a coincidence.
“In the case of Mr. Rezaian the time frame was very important,” Khalaji explained. It could have been yet another “means to actually succeed in these negotiations.”
Stuart Grassian, psychologist and the second expert witness for the prosecution, gave insight into how lingering feelings of shame and guilt are “inevitable” for survivors of trauma like this, especially when they feel complete power has been taken away by malevolent forces.
Judge Leon asked Rezaian how he could harbor such intense feelings of shame over events that were not his fault. Rezaian replied, “I wish I had a great answer for you.”
“People don’t look at me the same way,” he said of the aftermath of his very public capture and trial. “They built me into an incredible boogeyman.”
Grassian said Rezaian’s anxieties and fears are difficult to overcome, even years after his release. The psychologist told the court Rezaian couldn’t even stand the sounds of small clocks ticking in his office during psychological evaluations.
“When you see this type of impairment persisting for over six months without substantial improvement, things aren’t likely to get better,” Grassian said.
Regardless, Rezaian told Judge Leon, despite everything that haunts him, his story is one that will be repeated.
If anything, Judge Leon answered, his experience is a “living example” of brutality and a lack of due process in Iran.
Rezaian said he always wanted to be recognized for his achievements as a reporter. To now be defined by the harrowing details of his captivity is “not something I want to carry for the rest of my life,” he said.
The third witness scheduled for Wednesday’s evidentiary hearing, set to speak on the justification for Rezaian’s desired damages, was not permitted to speak after recess. Judge Leon said the prosecution’s “frankly unheard-of” damages theories were “riddled with legal issues,” and hearing the witness defend them “would be a waste of time.”