Who is Roxana Saberi?
Roxana Saberi is the journalist recently arrested and sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison for “spying”. Her case made headlines because she is the first American journalist to be charged with such a crime, and because the charges seemed competely ungrounded. Amazingly, Saberi’s lawyer announced on Monday, May 11th, 2009, that Saberi has been freed, and all charges against her have been dropped.
Roxana Saberi was released today after her sentence was reduced to a two-year term, which was then suspended by an Iranian court. Her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, broke the news to the Guardian. She has been banned from reporting in Iran for five years, Khorramshahi said, but that is the extent of her punishment.
The jailing of Roxana Saberi – a freelance journalist who has worked for NPR, the BBC, and other outlets has heightened tensions between America and Iran at a cery crucial time. Recently, US president Barack Obama has been seeking better relations between the two nations. Roxana Saberi was convicted of spying just last month after a single day of trial that took place behind closed doors.
Today’s decision came after an Iranian appeals court agreed to review the case. The US government denied all reports that Saberi was spying for the United States, insisting that the charges levied against Saberi were baseless. The United States has been demanding her release since the news of her jailing broke.
Roxana Saberi grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and was even honored as Miss North Dakota before choosing a career in journalism. After having success in the US, Saberi moved to Iran six years ago to work as a freelance journalist for several news broadcasters. Conflicting reports surrounded her original arrest. First, the world was told that Saberi was arrested for “buying a bottle of wine” — a crime in Iran that never results in the kind of detention Roxana Saberi was subjected to.
Roxana Saberi was actually arrested in late January and accused of working “without press credentials”. An Iranian judge later enhanced the charge to the far more serious crime of espionage, as it is assumed that any foreign journalist working without credentials must be a spy. During her imprisonment, Iran released precious few details about her case.
Her family was allowed to visit her in prison, travelling to Iran to lift the girl’s spirits and officially protest her imprisonment. But the country’s intelligence minister said the initial investigation was carried out by an expert on security and counter-espionage, and that the charges would stick. Officials in Iran also never publicly confirmed the arrest of Saberi.
A duty officer at the US State Department was the first to release information on her case, obtained through official channels.
Over the past few decades, human rights groups have repeatedly been on the attack against Iran for their treatment of journalists, their many arrests of journalists working legally within the country’s borders, and the general suppresion of the right to freedom of speech. The Iranian government has arrested several Iranian-Americans in the past few years, saying these citizens were allegedly attempting to overthrow the government’s Islamic regime.
The most high profile case of Iranian American imprisonment came in 2007, when Iran arrested four such citizens including the academic Haleh Esfandiari. The four were imprisoned or had their passports confiscated for several months until they were released and allowed to return to the U.S. in 2008.