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Iran FM: ‘We do not jail people for their opinions’

Zarif defends human rights record following inquiry on imprisoned American reporter, enrages domestic activists

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed his country does not imprison people for their opinions, amid criticism over Tehran’s detainment of a US journalist for several months.

“We do not jail people for their opinions,” the foreign minister said on PBS’s Charlie Rose show Wednesday, when asked about the detention of Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who has spent the past nine months imprisoned on a host of charges related to espionage.

“The government has a plan to improve, enhance human rights in the country as every government should. I believe we have an obligation as a government to our own people to do that,” Zarif said. “But people who commit crimes, who violate the laws of a country, cannot hide behind being a journalist or being a political activist, people have to observe the law.”

Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter currently in Iranian custody. (screen capture: YouTube/Washington Post)
Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter currently in Iranian custody. (screen capture: YouTube/Washington Post)

Critics were quick to dismiss Zarif’s remarks.

Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was jailed in the country’s post-election demonstrations in 2009, took to Twitter to accuse Zarif of dishonesty. Bahari’s story, first written in the book “Then they came for me,” became the 2014 film “Rosewater,” directed by The Daily Show host Jon Stewart.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, criticized Zarif and the Iranian regime at large while speaking to the The Guardian on Friday.

“I didn’t expect these remarks from Mr Zarif. There are plenty of prisoners of conscience behind bars in Iran held solely because of their opinions, including journalists, lawyers, student and labor activists, political prisoners and many people who are in jail for their beliefs, such as Baha’is, Christians, many of whom I personally met while I was in prison,” Sotoudeh said by telephone from Tehran.

An Iranian court ordered Sotoudeh imprisoned for 11 years in September 2010 after he represented human rights activists and called attention to juvenile executions by the government. She received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Union in 2012 and was released following the election of President Hassan Rouhani, an ostensible moderate, in 2013.

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