LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Three weeks ago, on this program, we first learned from Reza Saberi that his daughter, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, had been arrested in Tehran. Iranian officials have not charged her with a specific crime and gave conflicting reasons for her arrest. American officials and news organizations, including NPR, have been pressing for her release, but she continues to be held in Evin Prison.
Roxana Saberi grew up in North Dakota, and in a moment, we'll be joined by her father, Reza, but first, we have North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan on the line. He's been working with U.S. officials to help gain Ms. Saberi's release. Good morning, senator. Thanks for your time.
Senator BYRON DORGAN (Democratic, North Dakota): Good morning, how are you?
HANSEN: Well, thank you. Fill us in on the efforts that are being made to help Roxana and her case, and if any progress has been made.
Sen. DORGAN: Well, the efforts are very extensive. But, as you know, our government does not have diplomatic or counselor relations with Iran. And so we have to work through other governments. In this case, the Swiss government is what is called the protecting power for our interest. I have spoken to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on several occasions and to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who spoke to his ambassador in Iran about this subject.
I'm trying on Monday to meet, to rather, speak to the permanent ambassador from Iran to the United Nations. And, as you know, on Friday, President Obama had a message to the Iranians and talked about future engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect. And we hope that one evidence and one sign of that would be that they release Roxana from prison and allow her to leave the country of Iran.
I think everything is being done that can be done to say to the Iranians, this is an extraordinary young woman. She - I know Roxana. She was a journalist in North Dakota before she left. She has a couple of masters degrees, was one of the finalists in the Miss America pageant. She's just an enormously accomplished young woman, someone who has American citizenship and Iranian citizenship, although she was born and raised in the United States.
There is just not any justification that I can see for her being held in this prison. We hope very much this ends the right way with Roxana being released, and we hope that it's happening sooner rather than later.
HANSEN: Hang on. I'd like to bring Roxana Saberi's father, Reza, into the conversation. He's in the studios of Prairie Public Radio in Fargo. Hello, Mr. Saberi.
Mr. REZA SABERI: Hi.
HANSEN: Have you been able to communicate with Roxana, or do you have any idea how she's doing?
Mr. SABERI: Oh, not since March 9th, when she called us briefly, for about a minute. After that, her lawyer has visited her twice, so he told us that she is under great psychological pressure and that's why we are so worried about her health, you know. She hasn't had this kind of experience and this kind of hardship in her life. This is the first time, and we just don't know how long she can hold on.
HANSEN: You and your wife, Keko(ph) wrote an open letter to the Ayatollah Khomeini appealing for your daughter's release. What did you say in the letter?
Mr. SABERI: Oh, in the letter, we just said that, well, our daughter is innocent. She came to Iran in order to study the culture, and people and history of Iran. And she was interested in learning about the Middle East. And since this was her fatherland, she chose this place. And she has done nothing wrong. She hasn't harmed anyone. She has never been unjust in her reports, always balanced reports. So we don't think that she should be incarcerated over there.
HANSEN: And you've been sort of pulled back and forth because there have been some signs that she would be released and then those turned out not to be true.
Mr. SABERI: Yes, they actually promised, not only it was announced by the deputy prosecutor of Tehran for security matters, it was written in the newspapers. The whole thing, they said, well, the investigations have been completed on Roxana, and she will be set free in a few days. And then we saw 14 days passed and nothing happened. And she was very disappointed when she learned just the day before holiday, that's a New Year's holiday there, that they are not freeing her.
HANSEN: Do you find comfort at all that so many people around the world have rallied to your daughter's cause: media organizations, human rights organizations, there's even a Facebook group, does that comfort you in any way?
Mr. SABERI: Yes, I am - we are very much impressed by all the support that's coming from all over the world, from, especially from North Dakota and the United States. And we are very grateful for our senators - Senator Byron Dorgan and Senator Conrad and Congressman Earl Pomeroy, they have been in contact with me, and Governor Hoeven. All of them have been very supportive of this.
But we hope that all the support can reach to the Iranian government officials who have held our daughter. And they know that this woman is supported and is loved. And many, many people are praying for her release.
HANSEN: Mr. Saberi, is there anything you'd like to say to Senator Dorgan?
Mr. SABERI: Only I have many thanks for his efforts, and we are proud to have a senator like him and like Senator Conrad in our state.
HANSEN: Senator Dorgan, is there anything you'd like to say to Mr. Saberi?
Sen. DORGAN: Well, we just pray that this ends well and that she's released soon. Certainly the Iranians must understand the anxiety all around the world. I mean, 10,000 signatures of the Committee to Protect Journalists has been delivered to the United Nations to permanent ambassador from Iran. I'm going to be meeting with President Obama on Monday afternoon on another matter and intend to raise it again with him.
I would say that especially the Saberi family, you know, I certainly understand the unbelievable anxiety they're going through and all of us are praying for Roxana's safe release.
Mr. SABERI: Thank you. Thank you very much.
HANSEN: Reza Saberi is jailed journalist Roxana Saberi's father. He joined us from the studios of Prairie Public Radio in Fargo. Thank you so much.
Mr. SABERI: Thank you.
HANSEN: And on the phone with us, our thanks to you, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan. Thank you.
Sen. DORGAN: Thanks a lot.
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