Jason Rezaian Attends The White House Correspondents' Dinner, One Year After President Obama Called For His Release
On Saturday, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian attended the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington, D.C., playing a much different role in the annual event than he did last year. Rezaian was one of thousands of attendees to gather in the Washington Hilton along with the president, first lady, and some of Hollywood's finest. For Rezaian, the event probably had a much more symbolic meaning, representing his return to the U.S. after nearly a year and a half in an Iranian prison.
Rezaian arrived at the event with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who wore a sleek blue dress. Ahead of the dinner, the couple walked the red carpet, which also saw the likes of Secretary of State John Kerry, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Kerry Washington. In 2015, Rezaian was also represented at the event, but he did not attend in person.
While living in Tehran, Iran, as a Tehran correspondent for The Washington Post, Rezaian, who has both American and Iranian citizenship, was arrested and charged with espionage and activities related to propaganda. He was initially detained, along with his wife, in July 2014. More than a year later, Rezaian was sentenced to prison by the Iranian government in November 2015. His wife had already been released.
Last year, President Obama spoke about Rezaian's case during his address at the WHCD, noting that Rezaian's brother was in attendance.
For nine months, Jason has been imprisoned in Tehran for nothing more than writing about the hopes and the fears of the Iranian people, carrying their stories to the readers of The Washington Post in an effort to bridge our common humanity. As was already mentioned, Jason's brother, Ali, is here tonight and I have told him personally we will not rest until we bring him home to his family, safe and sound.
Rezaian was released in January, along with three other U.S. prisoners. (However, according to his Twitter, the Iranian government never returned some of his belongings, including his wedding photos.) The release coincided with international diplomatic talks in Vienna over the lifting of sanctions on Iran, which the U.S. was a part of.
This year, Rezaian was more than just an attendee at the WHCD. He spoke to the crowd of more than 2,000 people, announcing the annual journalism awards that are given out at the event. Rezaian walked on stage to a standing ovation from the head table, which included the president and first lady. At the podium, he referenced his time in Iranian prison, saying, "This is a big, intimidating room, but I can say that it beats solitary confinement."
Rezaian's release at the beginning of 2016 was a big win for American journalism. In total, he spent just short of 18 full months in Iran's notorious Evin prison. With Saturday's WHCD, he has come full circle, attending the very event that the president used to plead his case last April.