TEHRAN, Iran (AFP) — Jason Rezaian was arrested at his Tehran home on July 22, 2014. His friends thought he would be quickly released. But it would be 543 days until the journalist tasted freedom.
As The Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent, the dual American-Iranian citizen occupied a top post among the very few foreign reporters based in the Iranian capital.
Iran’s nuclear talks with the United States, its foe since the Islamic revolution of 1979, should have been the biggest story of the California-born journalist’s life.
But he would miss it, instead being incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin prison until his release Saturday as part of a long-speculated prisoner swap that culminated with the nuclear deal being sealed.
Now 39, Rezaian was detained a few days after writing a story about how Iranians loved baseball. The tale about the American sport was seen by many as typical of his reporting; human and concerned with how Americans and Iranians were not so different.
Arrested at the same time was his wife Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian and at that time a journalist for The National, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper. She was released on bail a few months later.
The couple had married in April 2013 in Iran, deepening Rezaian’s bond to the country.
Little was known about why they had been taken into custody until Iranian media published reports saying the journalist was accused of spying and providing information to US diplomats in Dubai.
Rezaian’s employer — he started working for the Post in 2012 — and family vehemently denied the reports that its correspondent had committed any crime.
Only a few weeks earlier, Rezaian and his wife had appeared in an episode of “Parts Unknown,” the CNN show hosted by American chef turned television star Anthony Bourdain.
The visit to Iran by Bourdain seemed to showcase a new openness to the United States, coming in the first year of a new president, Hassan Rouhani.
Having lived in Iran for more than five years at that time, Rezaian — formerly a freelance journalist — seemed conflicted about whether to stay.
‘I love it, and I hate it’
“I miss certain things about home,” he told Bourdain, speaking of the United States.
“I miss my buddies. I miss burritos. I miss having certain beverages with my buddies, with burritos,” he said, before turning to Iran.
“I love it. And I hate it. But it’s home. It’s become home.”
Only a few weeks later a small cell behind the forbidding barbed wire topped walls of Evin prison would be his home.
His family said his health deteriorated in prison, where he lost weight and suffered from high blood pressure, and that he was held for months in isolation without access to a lawyer.
The US newspaper also said he was subjected to physical mistreatment and psychological abuse before finally being convicted of espionage in what it called a sham trial.
The Post’s editors said the reporter had become a hostage to the nuclear talks, being detained at the behest of hardline opponents of Rouhani within Iran’s regime.
The nuclear deal was finally implemented on Saturday, with sanctions on Iran being lifted.
Rezaian’s fate unfolded a long way from what he considered his true home.
Born to an Iranian father and American mother and raised in Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area, he had relatively little exposure to Iran until he was in his twenties and his father began visiting.
Rezaian studied in New York and worked for his father’s carpet selling business before going into journalism. His friends said he aimed to show a better image of Iran to the world.
“He wanted people to know that Iranians have the same aspirations and hopes and dreams for their families that people all around the west and everywhere else do, and to get rid of this one-dimensional view of Iran,” said his brother Ali, who was the main spokesman for the family.
The reporter’s story of his own incarceration is likely to become highly sought-after reading as soon as he emerges from a journey that to most will seem a nightmare.
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