What Lies Ahead For Convicted Journalist?
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Roxana Saberi, the U.S. journalist held in an Iranian prison since January 31st on charges of espionage, was convicted earlier this week. Today she was sentenced to eight years in prison. Ms. Saberi has reported from Iran for NPR, the BBC and other news organizations. Joining us now from New York is Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Mr. Mahoney, thanks for being with us.
Mr. ROBERT MAHONEY (Deputy Director, Committee to Protect Journalists): Good morning.
SIMON: And here in our studios, Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Sadjadpour, thank you very much for being with us.
Mr. KARIM SADJADPOUR (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: And in turn, could I get your reaction, Mr. Mahoney?
Mr. MAHONEY: Yeah, we are very troubled by this sentence, which seems very harsh. And there is very little transparency in the process of this trial. We don't know exactly what the charges are, underneath this umbrella charge of espionage. So we would ask the Iranian authorities to clarify what the charges are, and meanwhile, to let Roxana Saberi out on bail.
SIMON: Mr. Sadjadpour, what do you think is going on here, and is there any pressure that's useful or is it counter-productive?
Mr. SADJADPOUR: Well, first, Scott, Roxana is a good friend of mine. I used to see her very frequently in Tehran. And a friend of mine in Tehran recently told me, he said, had you asked them, 1,000 people who could potentially be targeted by this regime for espionage, Roxana would not have been on that list. So these charges against her are certainly baseless. And I think even the regime itself doesn't believe the charges leveled against her.
But unfortunately, I think she's caught up in this broader contentious relationship between the United States and Iran. And whereas the Obama administration has reached a consensus that it's time to engage Iran, to try to forge a new relationship with Tehran. I think within Tehran they're very conflicted. And you have hardliners who don't represent a majority of the population or even of the political elite, who stand to lose big time if there is a U.S.-Iran rapprochement.
And over the last 30 years we've seen that whenever there has been hope of confidence-building, or talks or an improvement in the relationship, they do something to try to torpedo or sabotage this dialogue. And I would put Roxana's case, unfortunately, within that context.
SIMON: Mr. Mahoney, in your experience over the years, if we set aside people who want to make speeches and good ones, pointing out the importance of free expression and free reporting around the world, what works or does not work in actual terms of getting a brave young woman out of prison and restored to her family?
Mr. MAHONEY: What will work will be to keep her case in the news and in the public eye. What will not work will be strident anti-Iranian - inflammatory anti-Iranian rhetoric. We believe that diplomacy, finding people who have some influence in Tehran, people who would be listened to by the Iranian administration and to keep hammering away on the diplomatic track.
SIMON: You're nodding your head, Mr. Sadjadpour.
Mr. SADJADPOUR: Absolutely. I think that's very, very wise advice. And, you know, it's very important when you talk to Nobel laureates like Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Prize winner in Iran. She says it's absolutely imperative that when someone is imprisoned wrongfully that we speak out and make their case very public. Because if we don't make their case public, there's no continued cost for the regime to continue to hold onto them.
At the same time, we need to make sure that this doesn't become simply a U.S. government issue, because I think that the U.S. government continues to make this a huge priority and presses and makes threats to Iran, then I think the Iranians will be less likely to want to comply. Because they don't want to project weakness in the eyes of the U.S. government, or project the notion that they're reacting as a result of U.S. pressure. So I would agree absolutely with Mr. Mahoney.
SIMON: At the same time, Mr. Sadjadpour, a question that's a little bit to the side of Roxana Saberi's face. What about people in the United States who ask why are we sitting down to talk with a regime like that that imprisons reporters? We don't want that. We don't want to be friendly with that regime.
Mr. SADJADPOUR: Well, it's a good question, Scott. And I would go back to what I said earlier, that there individuals in Tehran, factions who stand to lose in the event of a U.S.-Iran rapprochement. They stand to lose politically, and they stand to lose financially. And they are trying to sabotage this rapprochement or sabotage a confidence-building. And I think if we, the United States, react to these actors by ceasing confidence-building with Iran, that's precisely what they want to achieve.
So I think despite the political cost it will take for the Obama administration to continue forward with dialogue and engagement when Iran is imprisoning innocent American citizens, when Iran is continuing to enrich uranium, I think it's very much the right way to go.
SIMON: Karim Sadjadpour is with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
Mr. SADJADPOUR: Thank you.
Mr. MAHONEY: Thank you, Scott.