May 12, 2009
Anna Christopher, NPR
Dana Rehm, NPR





May 12, 2009; Washington, D.C. – In his first broadcast interview since his daughter gained her freedom from Evin Prison in Tehran yesterday, Reza Saberi, father of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, told NPR News that her nearly immediate release was a surprise. “We were very excited when this came unexpectedly. We were thinking we would hear something but this was very fast.” The interview is airing today on NPR News’ Morning Edition; the audio is posted to A full transcript of the interview is below.

In the interview, Saberi tells NPR that his daughter’s condition is good, but that she needs to rest and recover from her ordeal: “It had a lot of psychological pressure, as she said before. There was no physical abuse or anything. But just to be there, for her ... to be confined in one room and not to be able to do all the activities she used to do, it was hard for her."

After nearly four months in Iranian custody, an Iranian court cut Saberi's eight-year sentence for spying to a suspended two-year term following a 5-hour appeal trial Sunday. The 32-year old journalist has reported from Iran for NPR, the BBC, ABC, FOX and other news organizations. She has been jailed at Evin Prison in Iran since January 31st.

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Full Transcript
NPR News Interview with Reza Saberi
12:30 AM (ET)

Q: What happened yesterday when you learned that she was going to be released? How were you informed?

A: Well, we were very excited and it came unexpectedly. We were thinking that we would hear something but not that fast. So, it was very good news.

Q: How did it come about?

A: Well, when went to see Roxana in the prison and she was not there. They said they had taken her to the courthouse and we suspected that there might be something that they wanted to talk to us about, and so in the afternoon we learned, I heard from one of the lawyers that was in the court and he said that they were going to free her. We were surprised and happy.

Q: How did she look?

A: She looks good. She looks good. She needs of course some time of course to rest and recover, but she is fine.

Q: Can you say much about her time in Evin Prison?

A: About her time, she will herself later in the interview, she will explain. It…had a lot of psychological pressure, as she has said before. There was no physical abuse or anything, but just to be there for her to be confined in one room and not to be able to do any of the activities that she used to do, it was so hard for her. But now she is happy that she is out.

Q: What did the court…tell you about her release?

A: Oh, they said that they reduced her term to two years, but that which can be suspended for five years. And if during these five years nothing happened and if she has not violated any other law in the country, then she can…those two years will also be forgiven. She doesn’t have to serve those. So practically she is free as of yesterday.

Q: Her lawyer spoke to NPR yesterday and he said he thought that her release was based on judicial and not political reasoning.

A: In the end they made it judicial, yes. Cause first they were trying in the Revolutionary Court, but later they sent to the Judiciary Court, like the common courts for everybody that we have. And there it was just the law…..the legal authority….they decided upon what they had heard from the defendant and from the lawyers.

Q: How long was her appearance in court on Sunday?

It was five hours. She was in court. The court took about five hours.

Q: And was she allowed to testify?

A: She testified. She told all the things that she wanted. And also the lawyers defended. Each of them. There were two lawyers. Each of them defended the case, and in the end they said they would let her know the verdict. And we thought that it was take two or three days but the next day they announced the verdict to Roxana herself.

Q: Had you been able to see much of her in the jail?

A: No, in the jail just once a week we went to visit her for about 20 minutes. And there was always one or two people from the prison….guards there with her. So we could never speak to her alone, no. The first chance now we have at home to talk to her.

Q: What is the first thing she wanted to do when she got to her apartment with you?

A: The first thing that she wanted was to rest a little bit and to speak to some of her friends here. And just to be at home itself was a blessing after three months, over three months of confinement.

Q: How is your wife?

A: Oh, she is very excited. She is very happy. And I am very happy too. So, we are both.

Q: And what are your plans now?

A: We will prepare for a trip pretty soon. We need to do certain things before we leave. We will come back to the States and where Roxana will be in our house in North Dakota. Fargo, North Dakota. And for a while she will recover there and then she will decide what to do you know. We don’t know what she is going to do next. But for us the important thing is that she should recover first from this ordeal that she went through.

Q: Did she have anybody medical to check on her?

A: At this time no, but when we go back there she might consult.

Q: And will she be able to come back into Iran legally?

A: Oh yeah. She is free to go and to come back, yeah. They did not prevent her travel into or outside of the country.

Q: Would you feel safe if she came back?

A: It is unlikely she will come back. She will start working in the States most probably, or another place. Cause she is not allowed to work here anymore during these five years. As a journalist, she cannot work, no.

Q: How has your perception of Iran changed? You are originally an Iranian.

A: Yes, it hasn’t changed very much because I was here four years ago and I knew pretty much how it is. I have visited this country a few times since I left 36 yrs ago, so it is, I know pretty much how the conditions of the society are.

Q: You feel fairly confident you won’t have a problem coming back to the states with your daughter?

A: No, I don’t think so, no, no problem. No problem at all.

Q: Is there anything she would like people to know? I know she isn’t talking yet, but so many people were paying attention to this.

A: Well, at this time she is not going to give any interviews until she is back in the states. She just wants to thank all the people who prayed for her and supported her and she is quite thankful for that.

Q: Have you spoken to any American officials?

A: No, we haven’t talked yet, no. They have tried to call. But our telephones are just bombarded, we can’t answer everybody. And this is the first actual interview, that you are having, we are having with you, with you now, you know, after our daughter’s release from the prison.

Q: Just let me just ask again, did you have any indication beyond last week or into the weekend, that her appeal was going to be heard and that she would be so quickly released?

A: We were hoping for quick release, yeah, but we couldn’t, we were not sure. So yeah, there were some signs, there were some indications that she would be freed. Though we were not quite sure, no. We were hopeful for it, but we were not sure.

Q: What was the case her lawyer made in the court that was successful?

A: They deferred to some of the laws, and the minimums of the law. And they said that the law they used the first time didn’t apply this time. So the first trial was not good, I mean there was really no defense, and they had used the wrong information. But this time they defended according, they said according to this and this….so she should not be considered a guilty. Of course they some term for other reasons perhaps, she don’t work with a permit or something like that. I don’t know. I don’t know the details of the files but somehow they decided that it was not so serious as they had thought before.

Q: Do you think that might have had anything to do with President Ahmadinejad asking for, calling publicly for her ability to represent herself?

A: There were some recommendations from the President, from President Ahmadinejad and also from the leader and others. I don’t know how, but I believe they were not without any effect, yeah.

Q: How much impact do you think the international media attention?

A: I believe it had its own effect too. However, these people they don’t admit that there was any. There not influenced by the foreign media. So, they won’t. So, I don’t know the real answer to that, how effective it was. But we think that it was. So, for them, you know, they feel that they did their own work so they were not under any external pressure.

Q: I know she wasn’t eating very much for a while. She was on a hunger strike. Did you all prepare a meal for her when she got back home?

A: For two weeks, last Monday, about a week ago she stopped her hunger strike. And then she ate. So she was able to withstand the trial and defend herself. So she is now recovering and she is getting better every day, yeah. So she eats now regularly, yeah. Regular meals she eats, yeah

Q: Are there people at your apartment now? Are their people gathered?

A: No, just ourselves and one of our neighbors came to check on us and to talk to us. Other than that no, we are just a few friends. But right now, we are with our daughter.