Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian said Wednesday he wants to “catch up” with the world following his release from nearly 18 months in Iranian custody, including watching Golden State Warriors basketball games and the new “Star Wars” movie.
Rezaian — who was freed Saturday as part of a wider deal between the United States and Iran — also said he doesn’t plan to make further statements about his ordeal at the moment, but intends to “get back to writing the U.S.-Iran story at some point in the future.”
“I’ve spent a lot of my life writing about the United States and Iran, and I never imagined — and never wanted — to become a part of the story, particularly at such an extraordinary moment,” Rezaian said in a statement from Landstuhl, Germany, where he is undergoing medical tests at a U.S. military hospital.
Rezaian’s arrest and trial exposed a rift between Iranian hard-liners and reformists that now appears to be widening ahead of elections scheduled for the end of February. The vast majority of reformists who registered as candidates for the 290-seat parliament have been disqualified by the Guardian Council, a vetting body that favors the hard-liners, Iranian news media reported Wednesday.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the leader of the reformist camp, told reporters he was not at all happy with the disqualifications and would “use all my power to protect the rights of candidates.” But Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, backed the exclusions, saying that “only those who believe in the Islamic Republic and its values should be allowed to enter parliament.”
Also up for election are members of the 88-seat Assembly of Experts, which would pick the next supreme leader in the event of Khamenei’s death. Both the legislature and the assembly are currently dominated by conservatives.
Rezaian, 39, was among a group of four Iranian Americans released as part of a two-country exchange under which the United States also pardoned or dropped charges against 21 Iranians in cases related to sanctions on Tehran.
In addition, Iran released a fifth American, 30-year-old student Matthew Trevithick, in what U.S. officials described as a separate “humanitarian gesture” that coincided with the lifting of international sanctions on Iran as part of a nuclear pact with world powers.
“I want everyone to know that I’m feeling fine, and I feel lucky to be here at a place where I can get such terrific care,” said Rezaian in a written statement before emerging from the hospital to appear before photographers.
He was accompanied out of Tehran by his mother and Iranian wife, also a journalist.
Rezaian, wearing a black knit cap, smiled and waved as he posed for photographers outside the medical center with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and his mother, Mary Breme Rezaian.
Rezaian was detained in July 2014 in Tehran and later faced a closed-door trial on vague charges that included espionage. Rezaian strongly denied the charges, and The Post and other media groups denounced his jailing as wrongful punishment of a journalist who was engaged only in news gathering.
He was found guilty last year and sentenced to a prison term, but the secretive Revolutionary Court disclosed neither the specific charges on which he was convicted nor the length of the term.
“I hope everyone will respect my need for privacy as I take some time for myself and for my family,” said Rezaian, a native of Northern California. “For now, I want to catch up with what’s been going on in the world, watch a Warriors game or two, and see the Star Wars movie.”
On Tuesday, another of the freed Americans, former Marine Amir Hekmati, described the celebrations aboard the special Swiss jet that carried some of the former prisoners from Tehran.
“Champagne bottles were popped,” he said. “The Swiss are amazing. The hospitality. Chocolates. Veal was served.”
Also released in the deal were Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, 35, of Boise, Idaho, and another Iranian American, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, who opted to remain in Iran. The student, Trevithick, flew out Saturday.
Abedini had been imprisoned since July 2012 for organizing home churches. Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 during a visit to see his grandmother.