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Iran nuclear deal raises hope for imprisoned Washington Post journalist

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Vahid Salemi/File/AP

(Read caption) Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for the Washington Post, has been detained for a year in Iran, but the recent nuclear accord has his supporters hopeful for his release.

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Hopes are rising that the Iran nuclear deal could smooth the path to freedom for Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who has been in prison for three times longer than any other Western journalist held by Iran.

Mr. Rezaian and his wife were snatched from their home in Tehran in the middle of the night on June 22, 2014. Rezaian’s wife was released from custody on bail, but Rezaian remains detained on charges that include espionage – charges he and the Post refute.

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The historic nuclear agreement announced earlier this month might have changed the dynamics of the sitation, however. It “gave the governments a chance to talk to each other face to face,” his brother Ali told USA Today.

And keeping Rezaian in detention could hurt Iran as it seeks to reengage with the world, he added. It “is not good for Iran's image abroad or for [sentiment about] the deal in the United States.”

Moreover, the Post claims that Rezaian was apparently used as leverage by a faction of the Iranian Government during the nuclear negotiations. If true, that reason for detaining Rezaian would now no longer be relevant.

The deal gives Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greater political leverage with Iran's conservative hardliners.

“He can go to the Supreme Leader and say, 'Look this is really becoming embarrassing,' ” Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, told USA Today before the deal was reached.

The completion of the Iran deal is also thought to bode well for the release of three other Americans suspected to be in Iranian government custody.

At a press conference where President Obama announced the historic nuclear accord, CBS reporter Major Garrett asked how he could be “content” with an agreement that left four Americans held by the Iranians.

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Mr. Obama responded that including prisoner release in the deal would have further complicated already-difficult negotiations and imperiled the chances of getting anything done. Since then, the administration has reiterated its commitment to freeing Rezaian.

“We are not going to relent until we bring home our Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran,” said Obama at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Tuesday.

Iranian state media announced that Rezaian will stand will stand on trial in a Revolutionary Court presided over by Judge Abolghassem Salavati, known for handing down harsh decisions for political prisoners. Rezaian had to wait months to be able to hire a court-appointed attorney to defend him.

In April, nine months after the beginning of Rezaian's detention, the charges against him were finally released. In addition to espionage, he is also charged with three other crimes connected to bringing down the government, including "collaborating with hostile governments" and "propaganda against the establishment," The Washington Post reported.

The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.

Rezaian’s trial began on May 26, 2015, and was closed to the public. Three hearings have been held with the next expected to be the last, Rezaian's lawyer said.

On the one-year anniversary of Rezaian's detention Wednesday, The Washington Post filed an urgent action petition with the United Nations contending that Iran has violated international law. It seeks Rezaian's immediate release.

“Every aspect of this case – his incarceration, his trial, the conditions of his imprisonment – has been a disgraceful violation of human rights,” Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said at the press conference announcing the petition. “And it violates common decency.”