Journalist Jason Rezaian's conviction in Iran stuns North Bay friends

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Monday’s conviction of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian by the Iranian government came as a devastating jolt for those who know the journalist with ties to Sonoma County.

Acquaintances have stood behind Rezaian and his family, which once owned a Persian carpet store in Petaluma, since his imprisonment in Tehran more than a year ago. They condemned the arrest of the Iranian-American journalist, called for his release and pushed for a more transparent trial.

“As members of the community, we were very concerned,” said Sia Zadeh, who knew the journalist and his late father, Taghi Rezaian, for many years.

“Many people condemned the lack of transparency and respect for basic human rights,” the Petaluma resident said about the way the case was handled in his native Iran. Like Rezaian, Zadeh also holds American and Iranian citizenship but has not returned to his birthplace since the 1980s.

Rezaian, 39, has faced four charges, including espionage, since he was detained on July 22, 2014.

Rezaian was called an “American spy” by Iranian state TV and potentially faces up to 20 years in prison. The Iranian government hasn’t released details, including what Rezaian was convicted of doing.

“I’m deeply saddened,” Petaluma resident and cultural anthropologist Donna Brasset-Shearer said about the conviction.

“I know him, and I know many of his Iranian friends in Sonoma County. It’s been very tense for everyone. We know it’s totally fabricated,” she said about the allegations against Rezaian, whom she met at his father’s store about seven years ago.

“He’s a Northern California guy,” she said. “He worked in Petaluma and was born and raised in Marin.”

Brasset-Shearer was preparing to teach a course on Iran at Sonoma State University when she met the Rezaian family.

Like his father, Rezaian opposed to using military force to destabilize Iran and instead believed diplomacy and cooperation is the best solution for improving the relationship between that country and the U.S., she said.

“I got to know the family. I had many talks with them about Iran. It all was very promising,” she said.

She said Rezaian was passionate about teaching Americans about his father’s homeland and Iranians about the United States, where his mother was born. He often wrote articles about Iran, including for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“He wanted to teach both sides a little more about each other,” she said, adding that he decided to stay in Iran after a visit when his father died because he fell in love with an Iranian girl.

While the guilty verdict is disheartening, she said it wasn’t a total shock.

“(It’s) not totally unexpected because of who was presiding over his case,” she said, explaining that the Iranian judge in Rezaian’s case has a reputation as a hard-liner, handing down harsh sentences.

Rezaian got caught in the middle of a political struggle between Iranian hard-liners, who distrust the U.S., and those advocating for a relationship with the west, she said.

“We know he’s innocent,” Brasset-Shearer said. “He’s a very bright, affable person. It was a total shock when of course he was detained in the first place.”

Zadeh voiced hope that Iran will soon release Rezaian, as they have done with other journalists facing similar accusations.

“They have played political games at the expense of these people,” he said.

“If the past is any indication, hopefully Jason will have the same fate,” Zadeh said. “The sooner, the better.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@

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