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Reporter Sues Iran Over ‘Terrifying’ Imprisonment

WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal lawsuit filed Monday by Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian reveals details of his "nightmare" of 544 days imprisoned in Iran's notorious Evin Prison.

Rezaian was released in January by the Tehran government as part of a prisoner swap that included Iranian-American U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and one other American in exchange for the presidential pardoning of seven Iranians accused of violating trade sanctions.

Rezaian's wife, Yeganeh Salehi, was also arrested, imprisoned and brutally interrogated by intelligence officers and was released after 72 days before she was released on $32,000 bail, according to the complaint filed in Washington, D.C. federal court.

The journalist's brother, Ali Rezaian, and mother, Mary Rezaian, are also listed as plaintiffs, for allegedly suffering "their own extreme psychological trauma."

"Plaintiffs' nightmare began on July 22, 2014, when armed agents of defendant [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC] forcefully entered the home of Jason and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and held them at gunpoint," the complaint states. "IRGC agents proceeded to ransack their apartment, take them hostage, and transport them in the dead of night to Evin Prison on the outskirts of Tehran—a notorious facility where hostages and other political prisoners are kept in deplorable conditions, brutally interrogated, and subjected to physical distress, psychological abuse, and in the words of the U.S. Department of State, 'cruel and prolonged torture.'"

Rezaian says he was tortured and tormented for "for 544 terrifying days" by Iranian forces, who "also threatened to maim and kill his wife Yeganeh and other family members."

The January swap occurred during larger nuclear negotiations that allowed the lifting of trade sanctions on Iran in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program.

The deal coincided with a $1.7 billion payment the Obama administration made to Iran, which drew the ire of Republicans, who accused the president of paying a ransom.

The administration claimed the payment was part of the negotiations and that the U.S. owed Iran the money for weapons that were paid for in 1979 but never delivered.

The 68-page lawsuit alleges Iran used Rezaian as a pawn in the negotiations because they regarded him as a high-value prisoner who could be swapped for something they wanted.

The complaint details the 50 days Rezaian spent in solitary confinement, where he was allegedly tortured, beat and drugged. He says he suffered severe depression and hallucinations.

Rezaian was malnourished and lost 50 pounds during the ordeal, and he also developed breathing complications due to the prison's air quality, the complaint states.

Rezaian says he was charged in closed proceedings and was denied legal representation on charges of espionage and cooperating with a hostile government.

His trial was overseen by Judge Abolghassem Salavati, who the European Union sanctioned in 2011 for human rights violations, according to the lawsuit.

"On Nov. 22, 2015, the Iranian judiciary told the press that Jason had been sentenced to an unspecified prison term. Again, neither Jason nor his counsel was ever informed of the terms of the sentence," the complaint states.

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, alleging nine counts of violations under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act including torture, assault, battery, false imprisonment, emotional distress and assault and battery.

Rezaian's complaint is at least the second federal lawsuit against Iran filed by Americans who were released this year. Hekmati, whose incarceration of more than four years made him the longest-serving prisoner to be freed, sued the country in May.

Rezaian, who could not be reached for comment, is currently a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

David Bowker, an attorney with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr who represents Rezaian, did not immediately return an email for comment Tuesday.

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