News Organizations Urge Release Of Journalist

Roxana Saberi with former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. i i

Roxana Saberi with former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. Courtesy of Saberi family hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Saberi family
Roxana Saberi with former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

Roxana Saberi with former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

Courtesy of Saberi family

Several news organizations — including NPR, ABC and the BBC — are asking Iranian authorities to explain why American freelance journalist Roxana Saberi has been detained in that country since late January.

The American-born Saberi, 31, whose father is Iranian, has reported for NPR, the BBC and others. She is being kept in Evin prison in Tehran. For the most part, she has been denied contact with family, friends, colleagues and legal counsel. On Feb. 10, however, she made a phone call to her family in Fargo, N.D., about her arrest and detention. She told her father, Reza, that she had been detained after buying a bottle of wine. She asked him not to speak about her plight.

As her relatives have grown more concerned about her safety, they have come forward and told what they know of the story to the local press in Fargo and to NPR. The family has hired legal representation in Tehran. Her father said Saberi was planning to move back to the United States later this year.

Hasan Qashqavi, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Iran, stated that Saberi was arrested for gathering news illegally because her press credentials were revoked.

An Appeal For Help

The appeal for help was signed by NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller, as well as by David L. Westin, president of ABC News, and Jon Williams, BBC world editor. It says, "There is much, unfortunately, that remains unknown about Roxana's legal situation, and about what steps Iranian authorities may take next. We understand that she is being held subject to a judicial order and may be subject to adjudication by Iran's Revolutionary Court, not a welcome sign."

In the letter, the news executives also write, "NPR, ABC and BBC are requesting that the appropriate Iranian authorities provide a detailed accounting of the reasons for the arrest and detention of Roxana Saberi and for clarification about what, if any, legal sanctions she may face. Most important, we want to emphasize that Roxana has always conducted herself as a journalist of the highest integrity."

They added that although the State Department has requested a formal explanation of the charge against Saberi and of her situation, Iranian authorities have not responded.

In a public statement issued Tuesday, the participating news organizations asked that one or more international organizations that have responsibilities and rights under the Geneva Conventions be granted immediate access to Saberi to determine her health, her well-being and the conditions under which she is being detained. They also asked that the specific charges against Saberi be brought to light and that she be allowed access to an attorney chosen by her family.

"If no charges are filed," the statement reads, "we now urge her immediate release, and that she be given permission to return to her home country, the United States."

In Brussels to speak to NATO on March 5, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NPR's Michele Kelemen that she was "very concerned" about Saberi. Clinton said the U.S. government has been relying on Swiss officials to act as intermediaries with the Iranian government to determine Saberi's condition and to learn of any charges against her. "We have pressed very hard. We will continue to do so," Clinton said. "We believe there is only one outcome to this matter, and that is for her to be released as soon as possible."

Midwestern Roots

Saberi was born in New Jersey, raised in North Dakota and educated in Minnesota. She is the daughter of an Iranian father and Japanese mother. In North Dakota, she was a pianist and a high school soccer star. She was named Miss North Dakota in 1997. Six years ago she moved to Iran, where she has been a practicing journalist and student. Before she was arrested, she was studying for a master's degree in Iranian studies and international relations and was writing a book about the country.

"She has many friends and colleagues across the nation," according to the statement by the news organizations. "We are deeply concerned about her well-being and the deprivation of her rights, and will continue to press for action until we are successful."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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