Washington Post Journalist Jason Rezaian honored at Founder’s Day

Jason Rezaian was officially awarded the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership
Jason Rezaian awarded the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership at Monticello


Award-winning writer and former Washington Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian was officially awarded the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership, the university’s highest external honor, on Thursday. The medal honors those whose work exemplifies Thomas Jefferson’s commitment to the duty and virtue of public service. 

A first-generation American of Iranian origin, Rezaian became The Post’s Tehran bureau chief in 2012. In 2014, he and his wife, Yegi, were arrested on unsubstantiated espionage charges and held prisoner. Rezaian was held in solitary confinement for 544 days. In his podcast #544 Days, Jason recounts the harrowing details of his false imprisonment and what it cost to gain his freedom while caught in an international conflict.

After widespread outcry, Rezaian was freed and reunited with his wife in 2016. Today, he uses his platform to advocate for the freedom and liberty of others and champion the stories of those wrongfully imprisoned. Since Rezaian’s release, he’s been an integral part of the Press Freedom Partnership, a Washington Post public service initiative to promote press freedom and raise awareness of the rights of journalists worldwide.

“Most Americans aren’t aware of it, but right now, dozens of U.S. citizens - people just like you and me - are being held in countries around the world. Not because of any legal violation they committed or any credible allegations against them, but simply because they’re American,” said Rezaian.

While imprisoned, his wife was able to bring him books, one of which was incidentally a well-worn paperback of Jefferson’s writing. “All these years later, two ideas stand out for me. Those are the importance of press freedom and the responsibility that Jefferson and his fellow founders felt in protecting the rights of all citizens,” he said.”

Rezaian continues his work at The Washington Post as a global opinions columnist, using his platform and lived experiences to inform hostage and prisoner situations from the perspective of the imprisoned.

He frequently appears on CNN to discuss the responsibilities of the media and the importance of supporting imprisoned Americans. Rezaian is now working with a think tank to create a commission on hostage policies and recommendations for the U.S. government. Also a new dad, he is primarily excited to be a family man and explore new coverage topics.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals – sponsored jointly by UVA and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello – are awarded each year to recognize the achievements of those who embrace endeavors in which Jefferson excelled and held in high regard.

“We are honored to award Mr. Rezaian this year’s Medal in Citizen Leadership for his courage, passion, and commitment to public service. As an award-winning journalist and advocate for those wrongfully accused and imprisoned abroad, Mr. Rezaian embodies this award’s true meaning, providing a remarkable example of citizen leadership,” said Ian Solomon, dean of UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, which selects the Citizen Leadership Medalist.

Rezaian joins a list of renowned recipients of the Medal in Citizen Leadership, including Marian Wright Edelman, founder, and president of the Children’s Defense Fund; the late civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis; and Rockefeller Foundation president Rajiv Shah.


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