Six months after he was released from prison in Iran, PEN Center USA has announced that The Post’s Jason Rezaian will receive the Freedom to Write Award at the center’s Literary Awards Festival gala in September. Willow Bay, director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Journalism, will receive the Award of Honor, given to a person or institution that has “made meaningful contributions to the world of writers and journalists.”
Rezaian’s 545 days of imprisonment drew international attention to his plight and that of his wife, Yeganeh Salehi. Salehi was arrested along with Rezaian, though she was released on bail, while he remained in Evin Prison. The couple returned to the United States, along with Rezaian’s mother, in January, as part of a deal negotiated to secure the freedom of a number of Iranian Americans who had also been jailed in Iran.
Though Rezaian is hardly the only journalist, American or otherwise, to be detained around the world, his case raised important issues about how the United States should respond when American citizens working as journalists are jailed overseas.
Marvin Putnam, chair of PEN Center USA’s board of directors, said that he thought it would be difficult to develop “any single, clear foreign policy doctrine” that would govern the American government’s response in these cases.
“That said,” he wrote in an email, “abiding by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations as to foreign nationals detained here in the U.S. would probably be a good start, and certainly would go a long way in ensuring that Americans detained abroad receive the Convention’s same protections.”
That convention, among other protections, requires that law enforcement officials inform foreign nationals they arrest that they have the right to talk to their representatives at their nation’s consulates, that they be provided the means to mount an adequate defense at trial and that they be treated by the same standards as the citizens of the country in which they’re arrested.
The United States ratified the convention in 1969, but human rights advocates suggest that there are multiple occasions on which foreign nationals have been convicted of crimes in cases that did not conform to the articles of the convention. During Rezaian’s detention in Iran, The Post’s lawyers noted numerous ways in which his trial did not meet Iran’s constitutional requirements, and he was denied the opportunity to communicate with consular officials from either the United States or Switzerland; Switzerland’s consulate provides consular services to American citizens in Iran.
In recognizing Bay’s work at USC Annenberg and beyond, the PEN Center USA illustrated the rising importance of digital platforms in journalism. Bay has been an anchor for “Good Morning America” and “Moneyline” and a senior strategic adviser for Huffington Post.
“A [journalism] school curriculum today must focus on digital platforms,” Putnam wrote. “Technology has changed how we consume the news, and the next technological advances will change it yet again. Virtual reality and immersive journalism appear to be journalism’s next frontier.”
Rezaian and Bay will receive their awards at the PEN Center USA’s Literary Awards Festival ceremony in Los Angeles on Sept. 28.