I have never been so proud of my journalism profession in my life! Several hundred reporters, diplomats, and politicians celebrated the release and return of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. The former Iranian bureau chief was held in a brutal Tehran prison for 545 days. He was unjustly accused of spying which was strongly denied by all who knew and worked with him. The imprisonment must have affected him psychologically. He did not speak in public at the reception, but he smiled, waved, and hugged his beautiful wife Yeganeh Salehi. She was also arrested but was later released. She was allowed to return to her apartment in Iran with her parents. Her testimony about her husband's ordeal and his return to life in California was extremely poignant.
Other important statements were made by Jason's brother Ali, Press Club President Thomas Burr, Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron, CNN reporter Jim Sciutto and others. Several past Presidents of the Press Club were present, including immediate past president John Hughes who worked tirelessly for Jason's release. Executive Director William McCarren was also praised for his important work in the release. A video of a visibly emotional Secretary of State John Kerry speaking at the Washington Post last month was played. They all talked about the values of a free country and of a free press. They also talked about the dangers of reporting in these modern times. Nearly 200 reporters are known to be held in jails around the world, and many have been killed.
For the most part, they focused on Jason. A large banner was displayed, which read "Welcome Home Jason -Happy Birthday." He turned 40 years old on March 15th. Spirited music was played, and a buffet was served. Decorative deserts included cupcakes and cookies which read "Jason is Free."
The importance of the occasion was underscored earlier in the day , when Jason and his wife met briefly with President Obama at the State Department. The President hugged him and his wife, and expressed pleasure they are home. Also present were top officials -National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Brett McGurk. They worked long and hard to gain the January release of Rezaian and four other imprisoned Americans.
Jason is writing a book about his ordeal and his observations about the situation in Iran. Most of those who know or observe him believe it will be a fascinating and important book. We will also continue our work to try to communicate the truth and the major developments in the world, and are glad we have the Press Club at our backs!