A Bay Area native, Jason Rezaian, who holds dual US-Iranian citizenship, is one of four journalists who were detained last week by the Iranian government in Tehran. The other three people include his wife Yeganeh Salehi, who is also a journalist, and two American freelance photojournalists.
Citing the arrest as “the first casualty of the extension to nuclear negotiations,” Rezaian’s friend Reza Marashi told the San Francisco Chronicle that Rezaian in his writing had “described Iran as a country that happened to have a nuclear program rather than a nuclear program that was attached to a country.” Marashi directs research for the National Iranian American Council in Washington, D.C.
While the Iranian government has not issued a reason for the arrest, Marashi said, “There are people in Iran who are hard-line and extremist that don’t want these talks to succeed,” he said. “That’s why I think they are doing this. While I have no facts to demonstrate that this is the case, this is what my gut is telling me.”
Last week, Iran was granted a four-month extension in negotiations surrounding the country’s nuclear program. The United States, Germany, Russia, China, France, and England compose the P5+1 (which includes Germany) group leading the talks.
Friends and family are reportedly baffled as to why the Iranian government would apprehend Rezaian. “I think [Rezaian] was one of the optimists who was very hopeful about reporting from Iran,” said Omid Memarian to the Chronicle. “The authorities are showing him the opposite. Once you are a reporter in Iran, no matter what you are, you are always seen as a danger or a threat.” Memarian, a NY-based freelance journalist, was arrested and detained in Iran in 2003 himself. He has known Rezaian since 2006.
Rezaian grew up in San Rafael, California’s Marin County, and was at the time of his arrest working in Iran as a reporter for the Washington Post. He has been the paper’s Tehran correspondent since 2012, reports the Chronicle. The Chronicle noted that Rezaian, 38, wrote a blog for their own publication between 2005 and 2007 “called ‘Inside Iran,’ which discussed the political and cultural affairs of the largely isolated nation.”
Marashi praised Rezaian’s writing, describing it as providing his friends and anyone who has never been to Iran with the opportunity to get an inside look at the rich culture and history of a nation that was once touted as one of the world’s foremost empires. “His goal really has been to bring his friends, or anyone who couldn’t see Iran, the chance to do that,” said Rezaian. “He just loved the country.”
Rezaian’s wife Yeganeh is an Iranian citizen and works as a correspondent for the National, a United Arab Emirates-based newspaper, the Chronicle notes. The couple had met while Rezaian was working in the Middle East.
Iran detains more reporters than almost any other nation, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), writes the Chronicle. In 2009, journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested and detained for 101 days in Iran’s notorious Evin prison on suspicion of espionage. That same year, “three former University of California Berkeley students – Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal – were detained in July 2009 while on a hiking expedition, then jailed in Tehran as alleged spies and used as political pawns,” the Chronicle writes.
“We call on Iranian authorities to immediately explain why Jason Rezaian, Yeganeh Salehi, and two other journalists have been detained, and we call for their immediate release,” spokesperson for CPJ Sherif Mansour said. “Iran has a dismal record with regard to its treatment of imprisoned journalists. We hold the Iranian government responsible for the safety of these four.”