Jason Rezaian’s brother, Ali, describes Jason’s ordeal in Iran
Ali Rezaian didn’t think much of it when he kept receiving phone calls from unlisted numbers at his Mill Valley home on July 22, 2014.
That was until he heard a voicemail from his brother’s boss, Washington Post foreign editor Doug Jehl: “I need to talk to you. Could you please give me a call?”
Rezaian soon learned that his brother, Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, and his brother’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, had been taken from their home in Tehran by unknown assailants.
“That was the beginning, and it just went from there,” Ali Rezaian, 45, recalled Wednesday at the Outdoor Art Club in Mill Valley. Some 70 people turned out for the Commonwealth Club program, “544 Days in an Iranian Prison,” a discussion about Jason’s ordeal that included Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and moderator Janine Zacharia.
Jason, 40, was born in Marin County, lived in Terra Linda and attended Marin Academy in San Rafael. His late father, Taghi Rezaian, was a businessman who owned a rug store in Mill Valley, and his mother, Mary, was a family marriage therapist and involved with various nonprofits.
Although Jason was living in Iran, he remained Huffman’s constituent because he was registered to vote in the 2nd Congressional District.
Due to the Rezaian family’s connections in Marin County, friends of Huffman’s within the community initially reached out to Huffman after Jason’s arrest.
“Jason was simply a journalist doing his job and I think there was every expectation that this was going to get worked out and that in a few days it would be back to normal, Huffman says.
Ali Rezaian acknowledges that he’s learned more about the Iranian legal system than he ever wanted to. He and his family looked at other, similar cases like that of journalist Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned in Iran for 118 days, and found some reassurance.
“We looked at that and said ‘there’s no way Jason is going to be in longer than that.’”
But 118 days came and went. Jason was held for 544 days, and spent the first 50 days in solitary confinement. In October 2015 he was convicted of espionage in a closed-door trial in the Tehran Revolutionary Court. Huffman described the charges as “broad” and that they did not have the evidence to back up their claims — evidence allegedly “so explosive, they had to keep it a secret.”
“The things they were claiming Jason did were things that journalists do, like talk to people and ask them questions,” Ali said.
The pair noted that Jason’s stories during his time reporting in Iran were not provocative nor critical of the regime, but rather humanized the people of Iran, such as a story about Iranian baseball.
Ali explained that Jason was drawn to reporting in Iran.
“I think that Jason grew up seeing Iran was the 30-second clips, which some people would say it’s our press putting it out there, but it’s what the Iranian government wants you to see, and most of that is staged,” Ali says. “He got there with some misconceptions and realized if he had them, how can you expect other people to understand.”
When Huffman flew to Germany to meet Jason after his release in January this year, he wanted to have something in his hand to bring to him.
“I thought, why not a Marin Academy hat,” Huffman said to laughs from the crowd.
Jason is on leave from the Washington Post for a year to be a Nieman journalism fellow at Harvard University and study the evolution of U.S.-Iran relations.
Throughout the ordeal, Ali says he was overwhelmed by the kindness and support of Jason’s colleagues and friends and the Marin community in general.
“When you end up in a situation like this, which most people don’t, you realize how so many people want to help you. There’s so much support,” Ali says. “This is a wonderful community that we are living with here in Marin.” On Monday, Jason Rezaian and family filed a lawsuit against the Iranian government, citing his being held hostage, torture and terrorism. Although Jason and other prisoners were released, Iran has not stopped with its unlawful detainment and imprisonment and Jason and family hope to hold Iran accountable, Ali said.
“(Jason and I) both agree that Iran has done a lot of horrible things and they’ve gotten away with them, because we have let them,” Ali says.