LYNN NEARY, host:
Roxana Saberi turned 32 today in prison. Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist was convicted in Iran of spying for the U.S. and sentenced to eight years in prison. Her attorney filed an appeal yesterday, the same day her father, Reza Saberi, announced that Roxana has started a hunger strike, and is determined to stay on it until she is free.
We reached Reza Saberi and his wife Akiko in Tehran, where they're saying while they work on getting their daughter released. Mr. Saberi, good to have you with us.
Mr. REZA SABERI: Thank you very much.
NEARY: And, first of all, just tell us about this decision, Roxana's decision, to go on a hunger strike.
Mr. SABERI: She didn't wait for us to persuade her not to do so. I was trying to say that, well, this is going to be harmful to her. But she said that she is determined to do this. She didn't want to change her mind.
NEARY: Is she drinking anything? Is she taking liquids?
Mr. SABERI: I did not ask, but my guess is that probably she drinks water or something.
NEARY: Yeah. Well, you must be, understandably, very concerned about the danger this may pose to health. I mean, are you supporting her in this decision to go on a hunger strike?
Mr. SABERI: No, I don't think so because I know this can be dangerous. And - but she's doing it because she just wants to show that she is innocent. She has been in prison for no cause at all. And she says she'll continue her hunger strike until she's free.
So I don't know why she decided this. We are very worried about her health. We hope that something happens, that she is freed soon or some good news come that can stop, but so far she is continuing - is continuing to go on hungry.
NEARY: Now, I know an appeal has been filed. How exactly will that work?
Mr. SABERI: They are going to send the file to a different court, where there will about three judges. And they will study the file again, this time, as they say, more carefully, and see if there was any mistake in the first trial. And then they will give their opinion, or they'll give their verdict, actually. And the lawyers, now we have two lawyers, who can defend Roxana in the court now.
NEARY: And do you have faith in the process? Do you think she will get a fair shake in this appeals process?
Mr. SABERI: Well, it's not going to be an open trial, it's not going to be transparent. So we don't know what the outcome will be. It's not like a regular court where the lawyer can ask for evidence and (unintelligible) and argue it. This will be a little - again, it will be behind closed doors and in a tight environment.
NEARY: Well, thank you so much for talking with us, Mr. Saberi. And I…
Mr. SABERI: You're welcome.
NEARY: …could you hand the phone to your wife now, 'cause we would like to talk with her as well?
Ms. AKIKO SABERI: Hello?
NEARY: Hi, Mrs. Saberi. I know this must be an incredibly difficult time for you, and especially today, especially on your daughter's birthday.
Ms. SABERI: Yes. And just - if it's off the record or on the record, I don't know. But I want to tell you, people here are very helpful and good. And I listen to all those support we are getting from abroad all over the world. That's so helpful to keep our spirits going positively. Without it it's been impossible. So, I want to thank you for that first.
Ms. SABERI: And the people here. And when we met her for the first time, we just wanted to see her. And she was so shocked that we were here. And she apologized for causing us trouble. But she was weak. She didn't look healthy. And I really knew she had been under so much pressure. And she didn't know what else was going on outside the prison at all. We had to tell her the world was with her, the whole world.
NEARY: And that seemed to…
Ms. SABERI: That helped her.
NEARY: That helped her.
Ms. SABERI: But then she was so happy that we were here. And she at first asked how long we were going to be in Iran. And my husband said we will be here until she will be released. So she's sure, at least my husband will be here until this is resolved.
NEARY: Let me ask you something about her personality. Is she a very determined person? I mean, she's…
Ms. SABERI: Yes she is. She knows she is not guilty. She hasn't done anything wrong. She knows that. And we know that. So, to protest that, she said this is the only way. She'll be true to herself. You have to be honest to yourself and to others. That's her character.
NEARY: Well, I wish you the best of luck with this.
Ms. SABERI: Thank you very much.
NEARY: Akiko Saberi is the mother of journalist Roxana Saberi. Her husband, Reza, also joined us.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson is now getting involved in the Saberi case. He's going to New York this week to try to get visas to travel to Iran and plea for Saberi's release. Jackson told Chicago Public Radio that he fears Saberi could get caught in the middle of a political game between Iran and the U.S.
Reverend JESSE JACKSON: If you have the head of states of both countries responding to each other, they become the political playoff and tradeoff. And she could become a trophy or pawn in that game.
NEARY: Jackson hopes to fly to Iran with some journalism students from Northwestern University, Saberi's alma mater. Jackson said that he's reached out to Iranian religious leaders, asking for Saberi to be freed. He says he has yet to receive a response.
Jackson has negotiated hostage releases with hostile governments before. In 1984 he secured the release of a Navy pilot held in Syria. And in 1999 he helped get three U.S. soldiers released after they were held captive in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo conflict. You can see a timeline of events since Roxana Saberi's arrest on our blog, NPR.org/SoapBox.