- - Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Justice in Iran is a contact sport. The regime’s Revolutionary Court in Tehran has convicted Jason Rezaian, a correspondent for The Washington Post, of espionage. The Islamic republic long ago abandoned any pretense of judicial or diplomatic norms, and is keeping an innocent newspaperman behind bars as a bargaining chip in its shady power game with the West.

Mr. Rezaian’s conviction for “spying” on Iran’s nuclear program was announced Monday after he had spent 14 months in prison. His punishment, which was not revealed, could be 10 years in prison, it could be 20 years, or it could be something in between. The suspense adds to the pain of punishment, which is the point of delay.

Martin Baron, the executive editor of The Post, rightly denounced the verdict. “Iran has behaved unconscionably throughout this case, but never more so than with this indefensible decision by a Revolutionary Court to convict an innocent journalist of serious crimes, after a proceeding that unfolded in secret, with no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing.” The mullahs, who obviously have watched too many smuggled American movies, think all Americans are agents of the CIA.

Reporters like Mr. Rezaian, 39, are heroes of the information age. California-born to an Iranian father and an American mother, he moved to Tehran in 2008 to report the news and joined the Post in 2012. He accepted the risks posed in Iran and thought his multicultural heritage would enable him to present an accurate picture of life in a place hostile to Western visitors. The Middle East is by far the most dangerous place to practice journalism, where many of the 60 or so reporters killed in the world in 2014 lost their lives. Humans are by nature curious about what’s happening everywhere, and they can thank intrepid journalists for bringing the picture into focus.

Iran is especially dangerous for visitors, with or without the stain of ink on newsprint. Since holding 52 Americans hostage in 1979-1981, the Islamic republic has frequently seized innocents for international leverage and profit. In 2009, three American hikers who strayed from a mountain trail in Iraq onto Iranian territory were arrested and charged with spying. One was released after 14 months; the other two were convicted of illegal entry and espionage, and sentenced to eight years in prison, but were freed after a half-million-dollar ransom was paid for each.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has hinted he might exchange Mr. Rezaian and two other imprisoned Americans for 19 Iranians held in the United States for violating economic sanctions. President Obama’s decision in April, to stop prosecuting Americans who pay large ransoms to free a relative held hostage overseas, supports Islam’s profitable business of trading foreigners, arrested on made-up charges, for cash.

Iran has stepped up the boasting of its victory over the West in saving its nuclear program. Since then the mullahs have formed an alliance with Vladimir Putin to prop up the Russian client state in Syria, test-fired a long-range ballistic missile that can reach Israel, and now has tightened its grip on a reporter whose only crime was reporting the news for the other Washington newspaper.

This is a needed reminder to President Obama that Tehran has no intention of playing by the rules. He must keep up the pressure on the mullahs to return Jason Rezaian. Mr. Rezaian and simple decency deserve no less.

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