Jason Rezaian is on his way home

Washington Post editors react to Jason Rezaian's release
Washington Post editors react to Jason Rezaian's release

Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian is free from Iranian custody, back with his family and about to be reunited with his editors.

Martin Baron, the Post's executive editor, and Douglas Jehl, the foreign editor, are at a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where Rezaian arrived late on Sunday.

For the past 18 months both editors have been lobbying Iran to release Rezaian, the Post's Tehran correspondent. On Sunday it finally happened.

They haven't been able to see him yet, but they spoke briefly by phone on Sunday.

Rezaian was "in good spirits," the editors said in an internal memo. "Asked how he was doing, he said, 'I'm a hell of a lot better than I was 48 hours ago.' He said that he feels better than he did several months ago and that his mind is sharp."

"We've been waiting for this for a very long time," Baron said by telephone from Landstuhl earlier in the day. "You have no idea how difficult it is to continue to work and live your daily life knowing that one of your colleagues is sitting in the worst prison in Iran. It's a horrible feeling."

Now, he said, "we feel a huge sense of relief, and we're really looking forward to seeing him on safe ground."

Related: Watch Brian Stelter's interview with the editors

Jehl said he is both relieved and elated. "I'm just overjoyed that it's about to be over," he said.

Baron's optimism about Rezaian's case had dwindled a while ago.

"I always felt that he would be released eventually, but I was concerned that it could be many years," he said.

Rezaian and three others were ultimately freed as part of a prisoner swap that was announced on Saturday.

Sensing that the swap was imminent, thanks to intelligence from a Post reporter, Jehl flew to Europe on Thursday. Baron flew there the next day.

The Post editors had known about the swap talks for many months. They chose not to report the existence of the talks because "we didn't want to do anything that would compromise the safety" of Rezaian and the other detained Americans, Jehl said.

Several other news organizations, including CNN, also had knowledge of the talks but kept it quiet for the same reason.

Baron said there was a moment last summer when hopes were raised about an impending end to Rezaian's detention, "but then nothing occurred. So there were a few moments of optimism, but they were definitely few and definitely far between."

When Rezaian finally departed the country on Sunday morning, buoyant "wheels up" emails were exchanged among Post executives. Baron tweeted the hashtag #JasonIsFree, a replacement for the protest hashtag #FreeJason.

Rezaian's brother Ali said "Jason's release has brought indescribable relief and joy to our family -- this nightmare is approaching an end."

He added, "Today is an incredible day for all of us."

Rezaian's wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and his mother Mary were also on the flight out of Iran. This is significant because Salehi was detained at the same time as Rezaian in July 2014. She was later released, but remained under threat of prosecution.

While Rezaian was seen by doctors, Baron and Jehl were able to spend some time with his wife, mother and brother. The Post released a photograph of the meeting.

ali rezaian washington post

"The most important thing now to is to make sure that Jason's health is good," Baron said. "That's going to take some time to evaluate."

Frederick Ryan, the Post's publisher, said in a statement earlier on Sunday that Rezaian had been subjected to "deplorable conditions and inhumane treatment."

Journalists around the world joined the Post in calling for Rezaian's release. Ryan expressed "deep appreciation" to "the many government leaders, journalists, human rights advocates and others around the world who have spoken out on Jason's behalf."

He added, "We look forward to the joyous occasion of welcoming him back to the Washington Post newsroom."

It is unclear when that might happen.

Related: The long ordeal of Jason Rezaian: American journalist jailed by Iran

A Post employee in Washington, D.C., speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was an "incredible sense of relief" in the newsroom when Rezaian finally departed Iran. But there isn't much time for celebrating; there's a big story to cover.

"Most of the discussions of the past day have been about the work and reporting," the employee said.

The Post has been widely praised for its aggressive efforts to secure Rezaian's release.

"I don't think I've seen a U.S. news organization advocate for one of their journalists as well as WaPo did with Rezaian," Arash Karami ‏of AI-Monitor tweeted.

Baron and Jehl "fought like hell for Jason Rezaian. Showed us what it means to be an editor. Proud of them. Did not leave their guy," National Press Club executive director Bill McCarren tweeted.

While Rezaian has been freed, the Committee to Protect Journalists noted Iran's disturbing treatment of other journalists.

"There are 18 journalists left in prison" in Iran, all of whom are Iranians, the group's executive director Joel Simon said on CNN's "Reliable Sources."

"There's actually a crackdown underway in Iran," he said. "So we obviously need to celebrate Jason's release. But this is not a breakthrough in terms of press freedom or human rights in Iran."

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