National Press Club

NPC Unites Forces to Free Jason Rezaian

March 12, 2015 | By Ken Dalecki | kdalecki@hotmail.com

Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl (center) speaks at a March 12 press conference addressing the plight of reporter Jason Rezaian. Also pictured: Jason's brother Ali (seated, right) and NPC president John Hughes.

Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl (center) speaks at a March 12 press conference addressing the plight of reporter Jason Rezaian. Also pictured: Jason's brother Ali (seated, right) and NPC president John Hughes.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

The National Press Club organized a renewed effort on March 12, to free Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian from prison in Iran where he has been held without charges under often harsh conditions for nearly eight months.

Family, friends and boxing great Mohammad Ali joined the journalism community in calling for Rezaian's release in an effort organized by the NPC and its president, John Hughes who is making press freedom a mainstay of his Club presidency in 2015. "Jason is like family to us," Hughes said, noting that the Post is part of the Washington journalism and cultural community. "This is personal."

Hughes noted that Rezaian's imprisonment is part of a new "unfortunate trend" facing journalists in countries ruled by repressive regimes. He announced that the NPC Board of Governors has voted to give its annual John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award to Rezaian in hopes that growing pressure on Iran will prompt his release and make it possible for him to receive the award in person at an awards dinner on July 29. "It is past time that he be freed," Hughes said, vowing to bring attention to Rezaian's detention "again and again" until he is released.

Efforts to highlight the California native's imprisonment included a statement from boxing great Muhammad Ali, who Jason's brother Ali called "the most esteemed American Muslim admired through the world." The former world heavyweight champion said he hopes "that the government and judiciary of Iran will end the prolonged detention of journalist Jason Rezaian and provide him with access to all of his legal options." He said that "to my knowledge Jason is a man of peace and great faith, a man whose dedication and respect for the Iranian people is evident in his work. I support his family, friends and colleagues in their efforts to obtain his release."

Douglas Jehl, foreign editor of The Washington Post, said Rezaian's arrest is an example of "state sponsored injustice" and "an abomination worthy of the world's condemnation."

Ali Rezaian said his brother has only recently gained access to legal representation but that no charges have been brought against him. He said Jason spent five months in isolation and underwent brutal interrogations lasting seven to 10 hours. He said Iran has "ignored its own legal system" in its treatment of his brother. He said interrogators have focused on Jason's e-mails, visitors to his home and telephone records.

Prior to his arrest, Rezaian spent two years reporting for The Post from Iran, where he was previously working as a freelancer and where he met and married his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, also a journalist. Both were arrested in Tehran on July 22, 2014 and sent to Evin Prison. Although his wife has been released, her Iranian passport has been taken and she cannot leave the country.

Ali Rezaian and his family hope that building pressure on Iran could result in Jason's release on or near his March 15 birthday or on or near the start of the Iranian new year on the first day of spring. He said Secretary of State John Kerry raises the Rezaian issue whenever he meets with Iranians. There is some speculation that Iran may be using the case as a bargaining chip in the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks.

Although born and raised in Marin County, California, Rezaian is considered an Iranian citizen by Iran because his father, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1959, was born and raised in Iran. An American citizen, Rezaian entered Iran under an Iranian passport to facilitate his stay in the country. The U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations with Iran and the Swiss ambassador, who often intercedes on behalf of U.S. citizens, is not unable to act because Iran insists Rezaian is a citizen of Iran, not the U.S.

Ali Rezaian thanked the NPC, Reporters Without Boarders and Change.org for pushing for his brother's release. Change.org has posted a petition on Rezaian's behalf which has nearly 240,000 signatures posted via change.org/freejason. Hughes urged NPC members to sign the petition.

Also attending the NPC press conference Thursday were two of Rezaian's 1992-94 classmates at the Marin Academy and Timathea Workman, who was his journalism teacher at the San Rafael high school.