The brother of a Washington Post reporter held for 10 months in an Iranian jail Tuesday called on Iran to release him, saying charges of spying laid against him were "laughable."
The family of Jason Rezaian was barred from attending the opening of his trial Tuesday in a Tehran revolutionary court, his brother Ali Rezaian told AFP in Washington.
"He and his lawyer were able to go into court, and my understanding is that the indictment against him was read to him, and the judge now is going to set a next day for the trial," Rezaian said.
Their mother, Mary, has been in Iran for the past two weeks and had been hoping up until the last minute to be able to attend the hearing.
"When they announced yesterday that the trial was being held in secret and closed that meant that my mother and his wife were not allowed to go to the trial," Rezaian said.
Iran's official news agency IRNA said, however, that Rezaian's wife, Yeganeh Salehi, had appeared in court.
Salehi, who is also a journalist, was arrested at the same time as her husband, but was released on bail after two-and-a-half months in custody.
Rezaian's mother has been allowed to visit Jason once in Tehran's notorious Evin jail in the past two weeks and to speak with him for four minutes in a separate phone call.
- Solitary confinement -
"The isolation is really taking a toll," Ali Rezaian told AFP in an interview, describing his brother, who is a dual US-Iranian national, as normally a very sociable person.
"Really he only interacts with the guards and the interrogators, who still come to talk to him on and off. It's very isolating."
Jason Rezaian was held in solitary confinement from July until December, when another person was moved into the cell with him.
Amid the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group, the US has raised Rezaian's case -- and the detention of other Americans in Iran -- many times with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the talks.
Ali Rezaian said that while some may believe his brother's fate had become intertwined with the complicated talks, the family wanted his case "to stand on its own."
The Iranian authorities needed "to look at the evidence, to realize that Jason had no malicious activities, he didn't have access to any kind of secret information."
The family remains concerned about his health, saying he has some issues which are exacerbated by Tehran's pollution and the excessive summer heat.
Rezaian is charged with espionage, propaganda, collaborating with hostile forces and a charge of working under "the devious disguise of a journalist."
The United States on Tuesday blasted the "complete lack of transparency" in Rezaian's trial, calling on Iran to drop the "absurd charges" against him.
"For over five months they interrogated him on almost a daily basis," Ali Rezaian said.
"It took them that long to come up with these charges that are based on really nothing. When we've heard about what kind of evidence they have, it's laughable."
"What kind of evidence do they have against him? I think the answer is not that much," he said.
"My mom did say, he's committed to proving his innocence and letting the entire world know that there's no basis for these charges and that he should be acquitted. That's a tough process."
- No diplomatic ties -
In the absence of any diplomatic ties between the United States and Iran, Switzerland acts as its "protecting power," overseeing US interests in the country.
Jason Rezaian is allowed occasional visits from his wife, who can bring him approved reading material. But he has not been allowed to write any letters and has been barred from having visits from Swiss officials.
A petition started on change.org has been signed by 436,660 people, and Ali Rezaian urged the leaders of the Islamic Republic to think about the consequences.
"I would say, please, at the highest level look and see what this case is doing to the reputation of Iran around the world. As a person who is half Iranian, I don't want to see the country looked at like that."