International Outcry Grows Over Iranian-American Journalist Jailed In Tehran
(RFE/RL) -- The case of jailed
Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi is gaining prominence as Washington,
the European Union, and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad are all expressing
opinions about the case.
Roxana Saberi has reported for the BBC, the US-based National
Public Radio, and Fox News.
Saberi was sentenced on April 18 in Tehran to eight years in prison on charges
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran on April 20 to swiftly free
Saberi, who is a citizen of both the United States and Iran.
"She has been subjected to a process that has been nontransparent,
unpredictable, arbitrary," Clinton told reporters in Washington.
That repeated a call by U.S. President Barack Obama on April 19 for Saberi's
release. Obama, who said he was concerned for Saberi's safety, said he was
confident she was not involved in spying.
The EU also called for her release. The Czech EU Presidency said in a statement
on April 20 that the bloc -- an important trading partner of Iran -- "considers
that the judicial process with Miss Saberi did not meet the standards of a fair
and transparent trial" and called for her to be freed.
The calls from Western capitals have so far received only a brief public
response from Tehran.
"It is an international norm that one should respect rulings issued by the court
and we expect all countries to respect rulings issued by the [Iranian] court,"
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi told reporters in Tehran on
But in a sign that the Iranian government, too, is
taking the highest-level interest in the case, Ahmadinejad urged Tehran's
prosecutor-general on April 19 to ensure Saberi enjoys full legal rights to
This was a travesty of justice even by
Iran's poor standards.
And judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi said in a decree to
Tehran's top court official on April 20 that the "different dimensions of this
case...must be considered at the appeals stage in a careful, quick, and fair way."
The Iranian moves appeared intended to deflect the mounting international
criticism over the way Saberi's case has been rushed through the legal system in
Raised The Stakes
The 31-year old freelance reporter has reported for U.S. public broadcaster
National Public Radio and for the BBC. She has been living in Iran for the past
six years. Saberi's father, Reza, said his daughter came to Iran "to do research
on Iran's history, culture, literature, and the people, but she ended up in
Saberi in a 2004 National Press Photographers Association file image
On January 30, she was reported to have been arrested for buying alcohol. She
was later also accused of working without valid press credentials.
Then, on April 8, the deputy prosecutor of Iran's Revolutionary Court
dramatically raised the stakes by announcing Saberi had used her journalistic
activities as a cover for spying for the United States. However, the court did
not provide Saberi's lawyer with a copy of the charges until just days before
her trial on April 14.
Human Rights Watch said on April 20 that the court had followed a fast-track,
closed-door proceeding that gave her lawyer no opportunity to prepare a defense
or adequately represent her.
"This was a travesty of justice even by Iran's poor standards," said Joe Stork,
deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Saberi's lawyer appealed her case on April 21. Under Iranian law, he had 20 days
to so from the date of her conviction.
"Saberi has appealed and I hope that the appeal court will change the verdict,"
the official IRNA news agency quotes judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi as
saying. "The appeal court will issue its verdict in an appropriate time."
'This Is A Right'
There were signs that Tehran is interested in seeing the case move quickly to
the appeals court.
"[I should emphasize that] Iran's judiciary system takes into consideration all
legal issues, including the right of appeal for accused persons, and this is a
right that is preserved for Roxana Saberi and her lawyer," Foreign Ministry
spokesman Qashqavi said on April 20.
Meanwhile, the office of Iran's premier human rights lawyer, Nobel Laureate
Shirin Ebadi, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that she has agreed to represent Saberi
But one of Ebadi's associates, lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, said that so far the
court has blocked their attempts to get the legal authority to do so.
"Around two or three days ago her father along with another relative and her
lawyer came to me and requested the Center (of Human Rights Defenders in Iran)
represent Roxana Saberi's case," Soltani said. "I, Mrs. [Shirin] Ebadi and Mrs.
[Mahnaz] Parakand accepted to defend the case.
"The next day, I and Mrs. Parakand went to the 28th branch of the Revolutionary
Court, but the head of that branch refused to let us meet with Roxana in order
to sign the legal authority. Now we have decided to talk with higher authorities
to see what their decision would be."
What might happen when the case gets to the appeals court is hard to predict.
In his decree, Shahrudi urged Tehran's top court official to be sure to compile
full documentation of evidence in the case.
That could suggest he expects the appeals court to back off the espionage
charges -- which would be hard to document -- while keeping lesser charges
against Saberi. The lesser charge could be working with expired press
credentials -- something Saberi has not denied.
Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, a lawyer for Saberi, said on April 20 that he is
hopeful that her sentence will be diminished.
But the outcome of the case is complicated by the international politics which
The United States and Iran are at a delicate moment in their difficult
relationship as Obama has signaled Washington is ready to speak directly with
Iran about its nuclear program and other issues. That would be in addition to
maintaining UN and U.S. sanctions upon Iran in a carrot-and-stick approach.
Tehran has signaled talks could be possible if they are respectful of Iran and
In this political context, the arrest of Saberi can be seen both as a message
and as a test for Washington.
Both sides are carefully watching each other over this case -- and keeping an
eye on many other nuances -- as they consider if and how to begin negotiations.
Saberi's case is both affected by, and itself affects, the atmosphere
surrounding the larger issue.
Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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