Last July, Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist based in Tehran, was suddenly arrested and thrown in an Iranian jail on laughable charges. This past week marked a grim milestone in Rezaian's life: he has now remained behind bars for a full year.
Rezaian is one of hundreds of journalists imprisoned in countries around the world for the crime of reporting. This week, the Post formally petitioned the United Nations to condemn his detention. The paper has also been running a grimly powerful series about the many threats journalists face in every corner of the globe.
It's easy to see why journalists are so frequently targeted by governments, criminals, or corporations. Truly free journalism is by its very definition a threat to secrecy, corruption, and oppression. Simply put, journalists want to tell stories that powerful people often would prefer not be told. They are a problem to be solved.
Time and again, the solution is the same. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 756 journalists worldwide have been murdered. 27 were killed in 2014 alone.
There are also hundreds of journalists languishing in prisons around the world, usually for the simple act of reporting. They rarely face a fair trial; in Egypt, prosecutors used random wildlife footage to successfully throw Al Jazeera journalists in jail. (Some of those journalists were later released after international pressure.)
Journalists face some sort of danger almost everywhere, but there are places it is particularly dangerous to report from. In Mexico, for instance, dozens of reporters caught in the midst of the country's vicious drug war have been gunned down, run over, or kidnapped. Syria—where journalists like James Foley were beheaded by ISIS militants on camera last year—is such a perilous country that many organizations now refuse to accept work from freelancers there, lest it encourage them to go in the first place.
And it's not just faraway places that hold risks for journalists. There is of course no comparison between being a journalist in the United States and a journalist in Syria, but that doesn't mean that there are no threats to journalists here. That's why there was such outrage when journalists were assaulted and arrested during the protests in Ferguson last year.
It's why there has been so much concern about the Obama administration's so-called "war on leaks," which has caused many journalists to worry that they can't protect their whistleblowing sources against the full force of the American government. It's why journalists were incensed when they found out that the Justice Department had secretly obtained records of two months' worth of their telephone calls.
Journalists deserve the right to report without worrying that they will be killed, arrested, or spied on just for doing their jobs. We have to demand that Jason Rezaian and the other reporters like him are freed immediately.