Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, in his first public appearance since his release by Iran, said Thursday it was humbling to learn of efforts to free him during his imprisonment.
"For much of the 18 months I was in prison, my Iranian interrogators told me that the Washington Post did not exist, that no one knew of my plight, that the United States government would not lift a finger for my release," a teary-eyed Rezaian said at a dedication ceremony for the new Washington Post headquarters.
"Today I am here in this room with the very same people who helped prove the Iranians wrong in so many ways," he said. "Knowing the lengths you all went to to keep my story alive is truly humbling."
Rezaian was among four prisoners freed in Iran earlier this month, hours before world powers sealed a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. In return, the US pardoned seven Iranian prisoners and dropped charges against 14 other Iranians.
Rezaian received a standing ovation from the crowd gathered for the dedication, which included US Secretary of State John Kerry and Post owner Jeff Bezos, who according to Rezaian "gave me a ride home to freedom."
Kerry, who had been scheduled to speak at the ceremony for some time, said the event was "particularly sweet for everybody now that Jason is home."
Kerry said Rezaian's imprisonment "gnawed at us because we sensed the wrongfulness" of it. And he noted that the day of Rezaian's release was "one of the days that I enjoyed the most as secretary of state (but) was also one of the most nerve-racking."
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He was referring to a 25-hour-ordeal in which the fate of Rezaian's wife Yeganeh Salehi and his mother Mary was not known -- a snag which could have derailed the prisoner exchange.
Kerry said Rezaian's captivity underscored the dangers faced today by journalists, who are increasingly targeted for their reporting around the world.
In the Vietnam War era, Kerry said, journalists faced dangers more from accidents or crossfire. But now things have changed.
"Journalists then were rarely hunted, today they are," he said.
"In our era, roughly two-thirds of the reporters who die violently are killed not in spite of their profession but because of it," Kerry added.
Kerry said the US would keep up efforts to ensure the safety of journalists around the world as part of a longstanding tradition defending a free press.
"To those who try to intimidate or imprison reporters, we need to stand up and say loud and clear that committing journalism, reporting on the truth, is not a crime," he said. "It is a badge of honor. It is a public service."