If my Post colleague Jason Rezaian were home for his 39th birthday on Sunday, he’d probably be at his brother Ali’s house in Mill Valley, Calif., building Star Wars Legos with his 7-year-old nephew and dipping into some spicy guacamole.
Later, he’d likely tuck into a bowl of Ghorme sabzi, a Persian green stew, and perhaps hatch plans with his high school buddies from Marin Academy to fly down to Arizona to see his Oakland A’s in spring training.
But Rezaian won’t be doing that on Sunday, because he’s in prison in Iran.
Rezaian, the American-born Tehran bureau chief for The Post, and his Iranian wife were taken captive by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in July, and he remains in custody after spending most of the past eight months in isolation and without access to medical care or a lawyer. The Iranian regime hasn’t explained what he’s being charged with, and no wonder: Jason Rezaian’s only crime is being an American journalist.
His imprisonment on undisclosed charges is an international outrage. But for Iranians, it’s also a tragedy.
Rezaian, a dual national who is the product of an Iranian American father and a European American mother, had made it his life’s work to change Americans’ views of Iran, to show the world that his ancestral land does not deserve its caricature as a place of terrorists and nukes and flag burnings. The sad irony is that Iran’s treatment of Rezaian reinforces the caricature and cements Iran’s status as a rogue state that mocks human rights and ignores its own laws.
U.S. officials are no doubt raising Rezaian’s case as they sit down in Geneva this weekend for nuclear negotiations with Iran. There’s every reason to link Rezaian’s case to the nuclear talks because it calls into question whether Iran’s elected leaders, the executive branch with which U.S. officials are negotiating, can be reliable partners if they have no control over Iran’s ayatollahs and their Revolutionary Guard. Iran’s elected leaders seemed as surprised as U.S. officials were that Rezaian had been taken prisoner, and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has said he hopes Rezaian will be cleared.
This week, 47 Republican senators caused an uproar with their premature letter to Iran’s government objecting to a nuclear deal that has yet to be inked. Those lawmakers, and their Democratic counterparts, would be more constructive sending their pen pals in Tehran a letter about Rezaian.
The Post has raised the visibility of its efforts to free its correspondent. Foreign Editor Douglas Jehl, joined by Ali Rezaian, highlighted Jason’s plight Thursday in a news conference at the National Press Club and in 22 satellite interviews. A petition on change.org has amassed nearly a quarter-million supporters calling for Jason’s release.
There certainly is no legitimate basis for keeping him. The charge against him is vague and implies espionage, which is absurd. “My brother had no other job than to be a journalist,” Ali told me Thursday.
That job was good enough for Jason. His late father had emigrated from Iran long before the revolution and did well as a rug salesman, and the Rezaians’ Marin County home, with a swimming pool, was the hub for the extended family. The gregarious Jason managed to become captain of his high school basketball team even though he’s all of 5-foot-7.
Rezaian became interested in journalism after meeting the late writer Christopher Hitchens in college at the New School in New York. Also in college, Rezaian studied Farsi, which he hadn’t learned at home. He took his first trip to Iran in 2000 and was enchanted; he spent more and more time there, eventually moving there in 2008 to be a freelance journalist. He joined The Post in 2012, and in 2013 he married Yegi Salehi, an English translator who became a journalist.
The half-Persian Rezaian made it his mission to explain his ancestral culture to his homeland. “He really wanted to demystify the place, to tell the truth about the people,” Ali Rezaian told me, because he “realized that there’s a big difference between what people saw on TV in the news and in the movies and real life there.”
His captors have instead shown the world that the Iranian regime can be every bit as thuggish as advertised. That may be just fine with the ayatollahs, who might lose their grip if Iran’s isolation ended.
But hopefully Iran’s elected leaders will have the courage to insist on Rezaian’s release. Otherwise, it’s difficult to see how they get sufficient credibility to secure a nuclear deal, or anything else. And the Iran that Rezaian tried to bring into the world will remain a pariah.