The continued detention of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian in Iran on security charges has led to an online spat between a Persian-speaking U.S. State Department spokesman and an Iranian news agency affiliated with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The exchange occurred after the hard-line Fars news agency issued a report accusing Rezaian, a dual Iranian-American citizen imprisoned in Tehran for nearly nine months, of spying and sharing information about the impact of sanctions on Iran with his contacts in the United States who work as "errand boys" for the U.S. Congress and the Treasury Department, and are connected to the Central Intelligence Agency.
"Selling Iran’s economic and industrial information at the time of sanctions is like selling food supplies to the enemy at a time of war and this is just one example of spying by [Rezaian]," the April 12 report said without providing any specifics on the accusations.
Alan Eyre, a fluent Persian speaker with the State Department who often quotes Persian proverbs and poetry in his interviews, dismissed the allegations by Fars as baseless.
"What a wrong reasoning by the Fars news agency," Eyre wrote on his popular Facebook page.
"It seems that Fars wants to use the U.S. insistence for the release of Jason Rezaian to conclude that he was a spy!" he added.
"The truth is that we are calling on the government of Iran to release all the U.S. citizens who are unjustifiably [held] in Iran’s prisons. We're also calling on Iran to help us find U.S. citizen Bob Levinson and return him to his family."
Eyre then politely advised Fars reporters to read a book by assassinated Iranian cleric and philosopher Morteza Motahari titled Manteq Falsafe that deals with philosophy and logic, apparently to tell them to improve their reasoning skills.
Fars reacted by thanking Eyre for his book recommendation while saying that the majority of its reporters have already read the book and other works by Motahari, "the teacher of the revolution."
Fars added that it was delighted that "finally in a government that provides weapons and advice to Israel and Saudi Arabia for killing innocent children in Gaza and Yemen, someone is found who instead of weapons and missiles, recommends books to another."
In its relatively lengthy response to Eyre's short Facebook post, Fars also said that it had "unveiled" alleged spying activities by Rezaian based on "documents" that it didn't feel the need to release for now.
The news agency that is referred to by critics as "Farce" or "False news" over some of its biased and inaccurate reporting, added that the alleged documents will be released publicly as soon as "legal entities" in the Islamic republic permit.
The semiofficial Fars news agency also accused the United States of jailing and torturing U.S. citizens and foreign nationals on baseless charges.
Eyre shared Fars' response on Twitter, while calling it "a silly joke." In an April 14 interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Eyre reiterated that Rezaian was innocent and that he should be released immediately.
Rezaian’s family and The Washington Post have also dismissed the espionage charges against him.
In an April 14 statement, Washington Post executive director Martin Baron said Rezaian had been subjected to "Kafkaesque restrictions," including only one hour meeting with his lawyer in preparation for his trial. The court date has not yet been set.
"The idea that Jason -- or anyone -- could be allowed only one hour with a lawyer before standing trial on serious charges is simply appalling," it said.
The statement added that since his arrest on July 22, Rezaian had been subjected to "harsh interrogation, months of solitary confinement, and poor living conditions" that have seriously impacted his health.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari