Veteran Iranian-American foreign correspondent finds herself targeted as a spy

Farnaz Fassihi writes: Two Wednesday mornings ago, I got an email from a journalist friend in Tehran. The conservative Iranian newspaper Kayhan has targeted you, he warned.

I poured a cup of coffee, sat at my kitchen table in New York and googled my name in Persian. I had returned to the U.S. in 2014 after 11 years covering the Middle East for The Wall Street Journal from bases in Baghdad and Beirut.

As page after page of Iranian news reports popped up, I gasped. The articles claimed that I was an American spy. My heart raced. “Who was the liaison between Washington and the seditious movement?” asked the story in Kayhan, which included a twisted account of my career. Kayhan is owned by the Iranian government, and its editor in chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, is an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Journalist or the agent of coup?” was the headline on Mashregh News. “Report card for a woman of Iranian descent,” said Tasnim, a website affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps, accusing me of fabrication and spying.

These conservative media outlets and others claimed to have uncovered, at last, the missing link between Washington and the opposition Green Movement, which arose after Iran’s disputed 2009 election, only to be brutally suppressed by the regime within a year. Their evidence: a Forbes magazine piece by the American writer Michael Ledeen that had appeared in early August.

Mr. Ledeen claimed that a man who worked on Wall Street and was close to Sen. Charles Schumer had acted as a go-between for the Obama administration and the Green Movement during the 2009 uprisings. The articles attacking me concluded that “Wall Street”—that is, the financial world—was synonymous with “The Wall Street Journal” and that I was the unnamed go-between (despite being a woman rather than a man). “A close examination,” Kayhan declared, shows that this person could be no other than “Farnaz Fassihi.”

Despite the absurdity of these charges, seeing your name in the same sentence with the word “spy” is deeply unsettling, especially in publications that are closely connected to the Iranian regime and have a long track record of targeting Iranian-American journalists. We are a vulnerable bunch, with greater access because of our family identities, language skills and Iranian passports but also suspect because we are American and represent American media outlets. The usual immunity of foreign citizenship doesn’t apply to us.

Examples abound. The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian is an Iranian-American journalist currently jailed by Iran and accused of being a spy. He has been in prison for more than a year, and a final court verdict is expected any day. On Aug. 10, the Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron, called his trial a “sham” and Mr. Rezaian “a dedicated, law-abiding journalist.” Mr. Rezaian’s mother told the Post last week that the family is expecting a long, harsh sentence. [Continue reading…]

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