Iran defends spy trial of US journalist

A file picture dated Sept 10, 2013, shows Washington Post Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi during a press conference in Teheran, Iran. -- PHOTO: EPA
A file picture dated Sept 10, 2013, shows Washington Post Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi during a press conference in Teheran, Iran. -- PHOTO: EPA

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran hit back on Thursday at United States charges that the trial of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian on spying charges lacked transparency, with Tehran insisting its judiciary is independent.

Washington has called for the release of Rezaian, who went on trial behind closed doors on Tuesday, with National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan condemning a "complete lack of transparency" in the case.

Rezaian, 39, is accused of "espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic republic", according to his lawyer.

Foreign affairs spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said it was up to a judge to decide the journalist's fate.

"In any country, questions of justice, judicial process and inquiry have their own procedures," Afkham was quoted as saying on her ministry's website. "There is no room for premature judgement and speculation."

Rezaian, an Iranian-American, has been held since July last year in a politically sensitive case that has unfolded while Iran and world powers conduct nuclear talks.

Teheran does not recognise dual nationality, and says the case is a purely Iranian matter.

Rezaian's wife Yeganeh Salehi, a fellow journalist, also appeared before the court on Tuesday along with a female press photographer, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported.

The two women were detained at the same time as Rezaian but have been granted bail.

According to Mehr news agency, Rezaian was questioned Tuesday over links with an Armenian American journalist, Lara Setrakian, who had allegedly sought information on behalf of US President Barack Obama on the candidates in Iran's June 2013 presidential election.

"As journalists Jason and I spoke often about the Middle East. But at no point did we do anything aside from professional reporting," Setrakian wrote on his Twitter. "I pray for Jason, for his release, and for better days between # Iran and the rest of the world."

State media have given no indication of how long the trial might last.

But it will overlap with the final stretch of negotiations between Iran and the major powers aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement on Tehran's nuclear programme by a June 30 deadline.