The release of American journalist Jason Rezaian and four other Americans from imprisonment in Iran caps a frantic week of U.S.-Iranian relations. The roller-coaster ride included the capture by Iran of 10 American sailors on the day of the State of the Union, a clearly staged confession and their quick release, followed by a prisoner swap with clemency for seven Iranians held in the United States and the transfer of Rezaian and the three others to American custody. (Left out of the deal is long-held hostage Robert Levinson.) All of this takes places against the backdrop of a monumental nuclear agreement between the United States and Iran, a historic achievement for the Obama administration. Implementation of the agreement is about to start.
Journalism is hard work. Despite a world of blogs, hashtags, tweets and texts, the real work remains that of honest, genuine, authentic, on-the-ground reporters who risk life and limb to bring us the news. When reporters go missing or die covering stories, we mourn. When reporters are imprisoned or held against their will, must continue to demand their freedom. In the case of Washington Post correspondent Rezaian, our pleas have been heard.
Years ago, I worked on the campaign to free another American from Iran: Haleh Esfandiari, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. In 2007, Haleh was interrogated for almost eight months, spending nearly four of them in the same notorious prison where Rezaian was held. Like Rezaian, Esfandiari had family roots in both Iran and the United States. Her release came about because of both public pressure and private pressure. The same is true for Rezaian.
It is easy to take for granted the freedoms that we in the United States enjoy, and the risks that others take in leaving these shores — especially when the mission is to keep us educated and aware of life in other lands. The right to be informed is a fundamental right of all citizens and without credible, independent reporting, that right is denied to citizens. We must continue to fight for journalists and for open media, the building blocks of open societies.
For Rezaian's family, the next few days and weeks will be filled with joy at his release and sadness for the precious months of his life unnecessarily lost. The adjustment to regular life will be hard. For those of us who have benefitted from his work, and watched this sad saga, we say thank you, and welcome home.
Sonenshine is former under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs. She is currently based at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.