news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute| July 29, 2014| 9.00 pm IST

The US State Department has called on the Iranian government to immediately release four journalists detained last week in Tehran. The four include Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, his wife and journalist for the UAE-based The National Yeganeh Salehi and two unnamed others. The State Department spokesperson said on Monday that the US will “continue to monitor the situation closely. We have reached out to our Swiss protecting power in this case as well.”

Rezaian has dual Iran and US nationality while Salehi is an Iranian citizen with approved permanent residency in the United States. Reporters Without Borders however notes that the other two detainees are a freelance Iranian-American photographer and her non-journalist husband, possibly bringing the total count of journalists down to three.

Whereabouts of all four remain unknown ever since their disappearance was first reported in July 24 (last Thursday). The onlyconfirmation from the Iranian administration on their detention came a day later when Tehran’s Chief Justice (Director General of Tehran Province Justice Department) Gholam-Hossein Esmaili noted that the journalists were indeed detained for questioning and more details would be provided after “technical investigations.”

The arrests, the first of American journalists since 2009, took the journalistic and diplomatic communities by surprise. Given the recent rise in visits by Western journalists and diplomatic interactions between the US and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program, the arrests were not exactly expected.

Al-Monitor reports that human rights defenders believe that the fact that there is still no record of their detention by the judiciary suggests that intelligence authorities “may be interrogating them and trying to build a case against them.” The same report quotes country experts who imply this is the handiwork of hardliners determined to undermine the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who has been working to revamp relations with the West for sanctions relief.

As to the immediate reasons for the detention of Rezaian, there are no clear indications. A look at Rezaian’s last few stories also reveals nothing too controversial. Noting this, The Washington Post in a recent editorial deemed the detentions “unwarranted” and urged the Iranian regime to silence any doubts on Rouhani’s sincerity by unconditionally releasing all four detainees.

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