SCOTT SIMON, host:
Roxana Saberi turns 32 years old tomorrow in Tehran's Evin Prison where she's been sentenced to eight years for espionage. Her parents say she's anxious and depressed, and this morning her father confirmed she has been fasting for five days.
Roxana Saberi is from Fargo; her father's 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 - moved there six years ago, where she's reported for NPR, the BBC and Fox News.
She reportedly told friends she wanted to dispel stereotypes about Iran. Her parents say that reporting the 2003 earthquake there solidified her affection for the people of her father's country.
Some analysts suggest that Roxana Saberi has become a kind of 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, but also that of Hossein Derakhshan, a Canadian-Iranian blogger who's been in Evin since November for insulting religious figures; and Silva Harotoniana, an Iranian of Armenian descent, who was sentenced last June for trying to overthrow the Iranian government.
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. In fact, Evin Prison is sometimes referred to as Evin University.
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 on March eight; that his doctor, Hessam Firouzi, who cared for several political prisoners, was locked up for plotting against national security.
Now, 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 tomorrow, 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.
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SIMON: And to see a timeline of events since Roxana Saberi's arrest, you can go to our blog, NPR.org/SoapBox.
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