Tully Award for Free Speech awarded to journalist imprisoned in Iran

A Washington Post reporter who served 18 months in an Iranian prison was given the distinct honor on Monday.

Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who was imprisoned in Iran for more than 18 months while on assignment, talked about his imprisonment, the mental changes he went through after being released and the duty of journalists on Monday at the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium. He was honored with the Tully Free Speech Award by the Tully Center for Free Speech that afternoon.

“I hope cases like mine remind us how important it is to express ourselves, criticize policies and hold the government to account."
-Jason Rezaian

The talk was formatted as a Q & A session with Professor Roy Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Speech. On July 22, 2014, the Iranian government raided Rezaian’s home in Tehran and seized him and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, placing them in custody.

Rezaian said that on that day, he had just received the renewal of his one-year press credential and was planning a trip to the states. But 10 hours later, he was handcuffed and transported to a prison by a van.

“It was a year and half of nightmare, a lot of twists and turns,” Rezaian said.

Rezaian was separated from the outside world and faced excruciating interrogations and 49 days of solitary confinement. His wife was released after 70 days, but, according to Rezaian, was “unable to live a normal life in any way.”

While in prison, Rezaian was denied all the rights and opportunities to defend himself. For a long time, his whole life consisted only of limited visits from his mother and wife, and a small television in his cell.

Under this unjust conviction, Rezaian remained optimistic.

“I tried to find something to laugh about every day,” he said, “There is always something, if you look at it right, will make you laugh.”

Rezaian was released in January 16 of 2016. He was transferred to Switzerland, then hospitalized in a U.S. military base in Germany, where he received a warm welcome from families, friends, congressmen and press members. Rezaian has filed a case against Iran for his unlawful treatment. He is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Nieman program and hopes to resume his position as a staff writer at the Washington Post.

“I hope cases like mine remind us how important it is to express ourselves, criticize policies and hold the government to account,” Rezaian said.

Television, radio and film student Julie McCullough, appreciated the Rezaian’s valuable message.

“I hadn’t really thought about the danger you signed on to when you are trying to be a foreign correspondent until now,” McCullough said. “It was a very inspiring and touching talk.”

The Tully Free Speech Award is awarded annually to a journalist who has faced and overcome significant obstacles in promoting free speech and the freedom of the press. Rezaian was nominated by a panel of industry professionals and was selected by Newhouse faculty and students from a pool of outstanding journalists who have endured extreme hardship in performing journalism.

Despite his harsh treatment by the Iranian government, Rezaian said that the people in Iran are distinct from their government’s policies, and he still views Iran as “a wonderful country.”

“I want to go back,” Rezaian said. “The country still has a lot to offer.”

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