Saberi Lawyer: Jailed Journalist's Rights Violated

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American journalist Roxana Saberi remains in Tehran's Evin prison, a week into her eight-year sentence on a charge of espionage. Her parents and the State Department say Saberi has been on a hunger strike, though Iranian officials say she has not been going without food.

Besides her health, the first challenge for the journalist, who has reported for NPR, is to secure the legal representation she needs, Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi tells NPR's David Greene.

Though Saberi currently has a lawyer, Saberi's family has retained Ebadi, a Nobel laureate who specializes in defending political prisoners in Iran, to take on the case. Ebadi says prison officials have refused to allow her team access to Saberi or her files, however.

Saberi was also unable to consult with a lawyer earlier in her case, Ebadi says.

"Immediately after her arrest, she should have had immediate access to a lawyer," Ebadi says. Saberi had access to a lawyer's counsel only after "full investigations on her case had been carried out."

Ebadi says Saberi's treatment has violated Iran's Constitution.

"According to the Constitution, political trials must be held in the presence of a jury and they must be open," Ebadi said. "But Roxana Saberi's was held behind closed doors in the absence of a jury. Even her father, who was standing outside the courtroom, was declined entry."

The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has also called Saberi's conviction unjust under the Iranian criminal code. "Roxana's trial was unfair and it was in violation of Iran's laws," Ebadi says, "and she was sentenced in the same manner."

Before she was sentenced to eight years in prison, Iranian officials had suggested Saberi might be released. Ebadi sees opportunity in this and other conflicting signals coming out of Iran.

"They have said a number of different things about her case," she says. "I am confident that Roxana is innocent, and if we are given a chance to defend her, we'll be able to prove that she's innocent."

Ebadi says international pressure, even from the United States, to have Saberi released has been crucial to her cause. "Without that support, the fate of a political prisoner will remain unknown — especially in the prisons in Iran."

"Human rights violations are issues that are transnational," Ebadi says. "Just as Iran's government has the right to criticize human rights violations in some Islamic states, so does the United States have the right to criticize human rights violations in Iran."

And despite the existing tensions between the two countries, Ebadi believes that the U.S. is in the right to express its concern publicly. "Roxana is also an American citizen," she said. "The U.S. government must protect its citizens in whatever matter it can."

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