WASHINGTON (CN) – For nearly a year and a half, Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian endured physical abuse and threats of execution while being held in an Iranian prison on charges of espionage.
Rezaian, a dual U.S.-Iranian national, spent 49 days alone in an eight-by-four foot cell without furniture and with lights on all hours of the day. He lost 40 pounds in as many days and was interrogated regularly and deprived of his medication.
His captors threatened to cut off his arms and legs or execute him. They said they would harm his wife.
Now, more than three years after he was released in a deal between Iran and the United States government, a federal judge ruled Rezaian and his family are entitled to more than $179 million in damages from Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The 30-page opinion by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon recounts in painstaking detail the horrors Rezaian endured during his 544 days in an Iranian prison after being falsely accused of being an American spy.
Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, were leaving their apartment in Tehran on July 22, 2014, when a team of three men wearing masks held them up at gunpoint and forced them back into the apartment. The masked men and a group of other agents wearing surgical masks ransacked the place, took their passports and electronics and demanded access to their social media and email accounts.
They then led the couple into a van, handcuffed and blindfolded them and took them to Evin Prison, the notorious facility in Tehran used to hold political prisoners.
Rezaian became “disjointed from reality” because of the poor treatment in the facility and developed infections “in his eyes and elsewhere,” while alternating between feelings of hysteria, confusion and depression, according to the ruling.
The conditions were so bad in the prison that Rezaian eventually relented and gave the guards a videotaped confession, which they had indicated was the only way he could hope to see the outside world again.
Though he routinely went before an Iranian court, the hearings “were largely for show” as neither party in the case presented witnesses, though that did not stop the judge overseeing the proceedings from indicating he would sentence Rezaian to death for being an American spy.
Though Rezaian was released in January 2016 as part of a prisoner swap with the United States, the effects of his detention followed him across the Atlantic.
He still suffers back pain from the sleeping conditions in prison and developed trouble breathing as well as other medical issues. He still wakes up from nightmares screaming and has developed travel-induced anxiety.
He and Yeganeh can also never return to Iran, where she grew up and where her parents still live.
Moreover, his other family members suffered from Rezaian’s imprisonment as they reworked their lives to fight for his freedom.
His brother Ali spent some $300,000 on legal and travel expenses as he worked with government agencies and international organizations to free Rezaian.
At one point, Ali considered committing suicide, thinking it might help put more pressure on Tehran to release his brother.
Rezaian’s mother, Mary, quit her job as an English teacher in Turkey so she could travel back and forth to Tehran, where she tried to negotiate with the Revolutionary Guard Corps to have her son released.
Jason, Ali and Mary brought a federal lawsuit against Iran in October 2016, but as is typical with such lawsuits, Iran never responded. Awarded as part of a default judgment order issued Friday, the $179 million judgment is unlikely to be collected, but the proceedings in U.S. court in such cases are considered important both for the victims personally and to hold the countries responsible publicly accountable.