NPR logo Birthday Wishes For Imprisoned Journalist Saberi

Birthday Wishes For Imprisoned Journalist Saberi

On Our Soapbox Blog

Roxana Saberi turns 32 years old Sunday, in Tehran's Evin Prison, where she has been imprisoned after being sentenced to eight years for espionage.

Her parents say she is anxious and depressed. This morning her father confirmed that she has been fasting for five days.

Roxana Saberi is from Fargo, N.D. Her father is from Iran; her mother, Japan. She played soccer and the piano with, her parents recall, intensity.

Roxana went to Northwestern and Oxford and became Miss North Dakota, 1997. But she had a fascination for Iran and moved there six years ago. She has reported from there for NPR, the BBC and Fox News.

She reportedly told friends that she wanted to dispel stereotypes about Iran. Her parents say that reporting on the 2003 earthquake there solidified her affection for the people of her father's country.

Some analysts suggest that Roxana Saberi has become a pawn in political games between factions in Iran, a kind of human chess piece Iran wants to swap for American concessions.

But the fate of no one in Evin Prison should be considered a game.

Amnesty International says that prison holds hundreds of the thousands of political prisoners in Iran. In 2003, Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, was beaten to death there.

Amnesty has called for Roxana's release and also that of Hossein Derakhshan, a Canadian-Iranian blogger, who has been in Evin since November for insulting religious figures; and Silva Harotonian, an Iranian of Armenian descent who was sentenced last June for trying to overthrow the Iranian government.

Esha Momeni, a graduate student from California, was released on bail in November, but cannot leave Iran.

The Iranian Political Prisoners Association lists hundreds of people whose names you would be even less likely to recognize: students, bloggers, dissidents and others who, in a society that lacks a free press, dare to practice free expression.

You can pick out names almost at random and be outraged. Omid Reza Mir Sayafi, a 29-year-old blogger, was imprisoned for "insulting sacred values." Prisoners say he got sick from prison conditions, received inadequate treatment and died March 8. Then his doctor, Hessam Firouzi, who cared for several political prisoners, was locked up for plotting against national security.

This may seem a bad week for Americans to reproach others about prison conditions. But the release of records and investigations into interrogations reminds us of the opportunity Americans have to live where harsh facts can be widely reported.

And we can hope, on Roxana Saberi's birthday, that if Iran doesn't want to free a journalist, maybe they'll let a daughter who loves so much about her father's country go home with her family.