The US government has been trying to arrange a swap deal for jailed Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian after he was convicted of non-specific spy charges, a senior Iranian official has said. The 39-year-old Iranian-American was arrested in July 2014 and was convicted in October 2015 of espionage charges.
The Californian's trial was conducted in private at Tehran's revolutionary court that handles matters of national security, and details of neither the judgement nor the sentence have been made public. He has been in Iran's Evin prison for 530 days and his health, according to his newspaper has begun to decline.
Rezaian's wife was also detained when he was arrested but later released with two photojournalists who had been arrested along with the couple on 22 July 2014. The Washington Post say that the claim he is a spy is "shameful" and added that in custody, he has been subjected to psychological abuse and physical mistreatment.
On 3 January, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said: "Some Americans contact us sometimes, asking us to exchange him with other detainees, but the sentence has not been announced yet," according to Al Arabiya. Ejei did not specify which Iranian detainees could be on offer.
Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani has said that the swap deal could be considered in exchange for prisoners in the United States. Other officials in the country have poured scorn on the possibility.
A senior White House official refused to confirm or deny the possibility of a swap deal. They said: "We're not going to comment on every public remark by Iranian officials concerning our detained and missing citizens. We continue to make all efforts to bring our citizens home."
Over 460,000 people have signed an online petition demanding Rezaian's "immediate and unconditional release" which will be submitted after reaching the half-million mark. The Washington Post said he has been "deprived of normal human interactions, forced to wear a hood when he is escorted around the prison by guards or interrogators, and is closely monitored at all times" during his time in custody.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which is demanding Rezaian's release, said 30 journalists were jailed in Iran in 2014. Only China jailed more journalists in that year.