While Secretary of State John Kerry was billed as the opening speaker for today’s grand opening ceremony for the Washington Post’s shiny new building, it was Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, in an unannounced appearance, who began the celebration.
Rezaian, freed this month after being imprisoned for 545 days in Iran, acknowledged the work of his colleagues, family and government to get him home. “For much of the 18 months I was imprisoned,” he said, “my Iranian interrogators told me The Washington Post did not exist, that no on knew of my plight, and that the United States government would not lift a finger for my release. Today I’m here in this room with the very people who helped prove the Iranians wrong in so many ways. Each day since my release I learn more about the efforts to gain our freedom, which began the moment Yegi [Salehi] and I were taken from our home, and continue on in support of our reintroduction into the world.”
“There’s so many people to thank,” Rezaian continued, before going into a litany of praise for Marty Baron, Douglas Jehl, Fred Ryan, the paper’s lawyers, Jeff Bezos, his “ride home to freedom,” Robert Kimmitt, whom the Post had hired specifically to work on Rezaian’s case, and Secretary Kerry and ambassador Brett McGurk.
“I’m truly fortunate to have this opportunity to thank [Kerry and McGurk], who negotiated with the Iranians for my release and who constantly advocated on my behalf within the U.S. government,” said Rezaian. “No other country would do so much for an ordinary citizen, and I know that.” Rezaian also acknowledged his Post colleagues, telling them that “knowing the lengths you all went to to keep my story alive is truly humbling and should make us all proud to be a part of the future of the Washington Post.”
Rezaian ended with a tribute to his family, his wife, mother and brother, calling them his heroes. “You guys mean everything to me and I’m just happy to be home with you,” Rezaian ended to a standing ovation.
Secretary Kerry followed saying, “This is particularly sweet for everybody now that Jason is home.” Kerry’s speech centered on press freedom in a global context while also touching on some of the particulars of what it took to get Rezaian home. “Your folks here did at the Post, the senior leadership, did an absolutely remarkable job, everywhere. And they were everywhere, and consistent. And Jason, you have the best bosses you can have in that regard.”
“Despite all of that effort,” Kerry continued, “this gnawed at us.” Which is why, said Kerry, “a week ago Saturday was really one of the days that I enjoyed the most as secretary of state. It was also perhaps the most nerve wracking,” Kerry said, describing the “twelve hours of delay working through complications on implementation day” as negotiators worked to finalize the release of Rezaian and his family from Iran.
Kerry ended with a reminder of the importance of the press, and what it means when the press is stopped from doing the work it was designed to: “A country without a free and independent press has nothing to brag about, nothing to teach, and no way to fulfill its potential. To those who try to intimidate and imprison reporters, we need to stand up and say, loud and clear, that committing journalism, reporting on the truth, is not a crime. It is a badge of honor. It is a public service.”