American journalist imprisoned in Iran for 544 days shares ordeal in new book

Kristen Sze Image
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
American journalist imprisoned in Iran for 544 days shares ordeal in new book
EMBED <>More Videos

San Rafael-native Jason Rezaian shared his story of survival after being imprisoned in Iran for more than a year.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Jason Rezaian is a San Rafael native, son of an Iranian immigrant dad and a mom from Chicago. He moved to Iran in 2009, hoping to become a foreign correspondent in an area of the world not many people dared to go to. It worked.

He had freelance work for three years and in 2012, The Washington Post hired him to be its Tehran correspondent. There, he also met his wife, Yeganeh Salahi, or Yegi. All was going well in Rezaian's life. Suddenly it all changed on July 22, 2014. Iranian police arrested his wife and him as they were headed to a birthday party, ransacking their apartment and accusing him of being a spy. He details his ordeal in his new book, Prisoner.

RELATED: Iran releases Americans in breakthrough prisoner exchange

In Rezaian's first interrogation inside a maximum security prison, his questioners insisted his Kickstarter project to bring avocados to Iran was proof that he was a U.S. spy. "It's code for something. We haven't cracked the code, but we're sure this is something very nefarious that I was trying to bring avocados to Iran."

He told ABC7 News Anchor Kristen Sze in an interview that although he was not physically tortured, he was psychologically tortured by being placed in solitary confinement for seven weeks. Rezaian says he still feels the effects, two years after his release. "I don't have nightmares the way I did when I first came out, but there are little things. I get disoriented in crowds, I'm sensitive to noise and to light and all sorts of things that weren't issues for me before this happened to me that I had to learn how to live with."

Rezaian developed a close relationship with some of his guards, even talking about U.S. politics. They asked him whether he thought Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would win the Presidential election. He said neither and asked them what they thought. They answered, "Donald Trump. He's the candidate that hates Muslims the most. That's why we think he's going to become President of the United States."

RELATED: Americans released by Iran arrive in Germany

In January 2016, Rezaian was freed in a controversial prisoner swap deal brokered by the Obama administration. As he was boarding his plane leaving Tehran for the last time, he threw his arms around his guard to give him a hug. "We've been through hell and back together. We've been on opposite sides of this ideological struggle. And I just won. I'm going home."

Rezaian is now an opinion writer for the Washington Post and CNN contributor.