Journalist Jason Rezaian Recounts 544 Days In Iranian Prison
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Five hundred forty-four days - that's how long journalist Jason Rezaian was held in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. At the time, he was working for The Washington Post and living in Tehran with his wife, Yegi, who is also a journalist.
JASON REZAIAN: We had cultivated this life. I'd been living in Iran for about five years. We'd been married for about 15 months. And it all came crashing down very quickly in a really dramatic fashion that would take many months to make sense of.
INSKEEP: One night on their way to a party, Jason and his wife were stopped in their garage at gunpoint. They were arrested and sent to prison on suspicion of espionage. Jason's wife was released a few months later, but he stayed behind, spending some of that time in solitary confinement. In his new memoir titled "Prisoner," Jason Rezaian lays out the details of his incarceration, the prisoner swap that got him out and what life has been like since. He spoke with Rachel Martin.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Who exactly were your captors?
REZAIAN: So the Iranian power structure is broken up into different parts. And one of the most powerful ones is the Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Revolutionary Guard Corps is a military force but has become an economic and security force in the country as well. The people that took me were the Revolutionary Guard Corps' intelligence service.
MARTIN: Who sort of work, is it fair to say, on the outside of the mainstream government.
REZAIAN: Yes, and not only that, they are outside of the government and above power. So, you know, they have their own section of Evin Prison. This is a section that has no oversight. Nobody has the right to come in and see what's going on inside this prison section and who is in there. So, you know, you were really at the whims of your captors the whole time. And that's a very frightening feeling. But also you feel powerless in a lot of ways.
MARTIN: What were your interrogation sessions like?
REZAIAN: Maddening. I mean, they had hacked into our emails and our social media accounts and, you know, were able to print out some emails. And they would bring them into the interrogation room with captions highlighted, some of my stories that appeared in The Washington Post and the most innocuous things, you know, a story that I had written about baseball or a line that I sent in an email to a friend saying, you know, apologizing for going radio silent for a few days.
MARTIN: Like radio silence...
MARTIN: It must mean, like, radio intercepts, something nefarious.
REZAIAN: Well - and only spies use those type of terms. All of these things were being construed as evidence of my espionage that was so complex and complicated, they had no idea what I had done wrong.
MARTIN: Did you have an understanding of what was happening on the outside to get you free?
REZAIAN: Not until about six weeks into it. Up until that point, we had been told that you were reported dead in a car accident, that The Washington Post hasn't said a peep, your family has - you know, they don't have any idea where you are, nobody knows that...
MARTIN: Did you believe that when you heard those messages?
REZAIAN: I didn't know what to believe.
REZAIAN: Right? But my in-laws were able to come to a court session that we had. I was told by my sister-in-law that John Kerry has spoken about you a couple of times, and The Washington Post is writing about you, and nobody's forgotten about you, and everybody knows you didn't do anything wrong. It was a shot of hope that I hadn't had yet, and it felt pretty good. But it was short lived because, you know, by the end of that day, I was back in my solitary cell and Yegi was as well.
MARTIN: In the end, you decided to sue the Iranian government, asking a federal judge to impose a billion dollars in damages. Is that purely symbolic? I mean, do you think Iran would ever pay that money?
REZAIAN: Iran would not willingly pay that money, but the point is, whether or not Iran will pay that judgment, it's not a symbolic question. The idea is let's make this expensive for them so they don't do it to other people. The Iranian government needs to feel as though, hey, you know what? This isn't worth it.
MARTIN: Do you know how many Americans are being held in Iran right now?
REZAIAN: We know of at least six U.S. persons. You know, that includes citizens and dual nationals. Bob Levinson has been missing in Iran for 11 years. The Iranian government contends that they don't know what happened to him. But I find that impossible to believe. Siamak and Baquer Namazi, father and son, businessmen, Xiyue Wang, a Princeton scholar who was there with a valid student visa, Michael White, a Navy veteran who was apparently visiting his girlfriend - and, you know, these are real people.
MARTIN: May I ask how you navigate life now? I mean, do certain smells or sounds trigger specific memories for you of your time in Evin?
REZAIAN: Not so much. I mean, I think about - I still have a very hard time being in situations where people are behind me - right? - where I can't see what the activity is behind me because so much of what I experienced was, you know, under a blindfold. And so many of their interrogations were done with people, you know, behind me.
MARTIN: Voices that were disembodied.
REZAIAN: And so that's still an issue for me. You know, I write about the fact that the lights were on 24 hours a day in my cells. And, you know, they're artificial lights, fluorescence, and I'm still incredibly, you know, almost unnaturally sensitive to those kinds of overhead lights in a way that I never was before.
MARTIN: You had at least a couple different cellmates when you weren't in solitary confinement. Do you know what happened to them?
REZAIAN: Yeah. Well, one of them was apparently convicted in a court case I learned later and is spending - I think he's been behind bars for - coming up on eight years now. I don't have any contact with his family, but I learned that through others. The other one who I spent the bulk of my time with was released about two months after I was. And we have a wonderful sort of back and forth over messenger from time to time. He's got two nieces who are very fluent in English who serve as translators. And every once in a while, we'll jump on a FaceTime call. We both put a bunch of the weight that we lost in prison back on, and we joke about that.
And we both look forward to the day that we can meet in a free country and give each other a big hug and reminisce about a really hard time in both of our lives but one in which we both experienced a really unique kind of friendship.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUSTAVO SANTAOLALLA'S "ALL GONE")
INSKEEP: Rachel Martin talking with Jason Rezaian about his new book, "Prisoner."
(SOUNDBITE OF GUSTAVO SANTAOLALLA'S "ALL GONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.