Jason Rezaian, a fellow journalist and friend, has been imprisoned since July 22, 2014, in Tehran, Iran. His so-called trial was held in secret, and the former freelancer and filmmaker, who at the time of his arrest was a Washington Post correspondent, reportedly has suffered physically and mentally in prison. The trumped-up charges against him included espionage, but Iranian authorities did not provide details of the verdict or the term of his sentence when they announced it in October.
I first met Rezaian in 2003, when he approached me about doing some freelance work for the San Francisco Chronicle, where I was managing editor. He was personable, smart and had a wonderful sense of humor. Rezaian wanted to use character-driven storytelling to break down the stereotypes that existed between Iran and the United States. His perspective was no doubt informed by his own dual American and Iranian citizenship – and I liked the way he told stories.
A decade later, before Rezaian went to Iran for the Post, I discussed my concerns about his safety. He told me not to worry, that he knew the boundaries that journalists faced in that country.
Since his arrest, I have thought about Rezaian often and felt a bit helpless. What could I do? That is why I am proud to stand next to two dozen of my colleagues in signing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, demanding that Rezaian be released immediately. (A Change.org petition asking the same is more than halfway to its goal of 1 million supporters.)
I know something about what Rezaian must be experiencing. As a foreign correspondent for The Philadelphia Inquirer covering Africa in 1982, I was seized by the Ugandan Army and held in a place called Bombo Barracks.
My predicament was nothing like Rezaian’s: Mine lasted less than 72 hours; Rezaian has been held for more than 17 months. But I was whipped, kept in a filthy cell with the blood of previous captors on the walls and experienced the fear, desperation and isolation of being held by people who have killed others and are capable of killing you.
When you’re inside you have no idea what the world or even your friends or family are aware of about you. You do not know whether they are taking action, what they have been told, or if they are completely oblivious to your plight. But you hope and pray that you have not been forgotten.
For me and the many others who care about Rezaian, it is important to increase awareness about his imprisonment. The Iranian authorities responsible need to know that many of us think about Rezaian and consider their actions cruel and unjust.
He is a journalist, and his arrest is an affront to all journalists.
The best journalism stands up to power and challenges those who abuse others, speak untruths and attempt to rule by fear, intimidation and distortion. As journalists, we often threaten the powerful by revealing their abuses and telling the stories of their victims. So who do some repressive governments feel they must control or eliminate to maintain or seize power? Journalists.
Journalists around the world are regularly threatened, imprisoned, beaten and killed because of the work they do.
Rezaian may not know what we are doing on his behalf. But it is a moral imperative for fellow journalists to remind the world and the Iranian authorities that we will not forget him.