Family, Friends and Colleagues Appeal to Iran for Journalist Roxana Saberi’s Release

She was a "super stringer" or freelance journalist struggling to make ends meet but still filing quality stories for various news media. She first got exposure by producing reports as well as going on camera to narrate them for Feature Story News, a small but leading independent broadcast agency that sells television and radio news spots to outlets from PBS to Fox News in this nation, and from the South African Broadcasting Company to MediaCorps News elsewhere around the globe.

Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old with dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, also reported for NPR, ABC News, the BBC and The Wall Street Journal, all of whose news or chief executives along with those from PBS, Fox and FSN last month issued a statement on her behalf. Raised in North Dakota where she became the beauty queen of the Roughrider state, Saberi moved six years ago to her father’s native nation of Iran to work as a journalist.

Her press credentials were revoked in 2006, but NPR reported that she continued to file short news items with the Iranian government's permission. Iranian authorities detained her in January 2009 and have since held her in Tehran's Evin Prison. Saberi was not officially charged until April 8 when Hassan Haddad, deputy public prosecutor, announced that she had been accused of spying. Ten days later an Iranian Revolutionary Court found Saberi guilty of espionage and sentenced her to eight years in prison in a closed, one-day trial.

The case echoes a previous one that ended in a still unresolved tragedy. In July 2003, another dual national, Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, died from a skull fracture in Evin Prison, after being detained for three weeks in connection with pictures she had taken during a student protest in Tehran as well as outside of Evin Prison. An Iranian intelligence agent was tried for her "semi-intentional murder" but acquitted by a court citing insufficient evidence.

Nonetheless, there are signs that Saberi could be released. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's office sent a letter to the public prosecutor in her case asking him to ensure that Saberi as well as another jailed Iranian-Canadian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, are each given the opportunity to exercise all their legal rights.

Nor are these two journalists, each holders of a Western passport, alone. At least five more Iranian journalists are also behind bars. Until last month, one more Iranian journalist was also in Evin Prison. Blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi was serving ‎a 30-month sentence on a charge of insulting religious figures when he died behind its prison walls also under mysterious circumstances.

Family, friends and colleagues are doing all they can for Roxana Saberi. Her father has been speaking widely about her journalistic work. Her fiancé, acclaimed Kurdish Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghodabi, wrote a personal letter on the website of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. CPJ posted a petition on Facebook that gained more than 10,000 signatures last month before CPJ sent digital as well as hard copies to Iranian U.N. diplomats in New York. The Asian American Journalists Association is hosting a website on her behalf.

"We are appealing to the goodwill of the Iranian people," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem." Roxana Saberi is a journalist and she should be released.