TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Roxana Saberi, was a young, American freelance journalist in Iran. She had reported for NPR, the BBC, Fox News and other outlets, and she was writing a book about Iran when she was arrested at her home on January 31, 2009.
She was taken to Evin prison, where many political prisoners are held. Accused of spying for the CIA, which she insists she did not do, she was given the choice: confess and be released in days or face many years in prison. After undergoing interrogation, she confessed, but soon after, she recanted. She says she was willing to accept the consequences to have a clear conscience.
Saberi was charged with espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison, but after international pressure, an appeals court suspended her sentence. She was released after 100 days. She tells her story in her new memoir, "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran."
Roxana Saberi, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, your father's from Iran, your mother's from Japan, you grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. Why did you want to go to Iran?
Ms. ROXANA SABERI (Author, "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran"): Well, as a child, I was exposed to Iranian culture through my father. There were not that many Iranian families in Fargo, North Dakota, but we knew the ones who were there. And they would meet every week, and we would have dinner. And so I would hear the Farsi language and eat Iranian food.
But it wasn't until I grew older that I became more interested in my father's culture. I had gone to Japan as a child a few times, but I never visited Iran. I decided, in college, that I wanted to become a journalist, and more specifically, I wanted to become a foreign news correspondent. And as time went on, I realized that Iran would be the perfect place for me because I could both, learn about my father's native land, learn about the culture and the people and the history, and also report from a place that seemed fewer foreign correspondents could go at the time.
Because I had an Iranian passport through my Iranian father, I knew I could go there, and I knew that it was going to be a country full of many news stories for years to come.
GROSS: When you were working as a journalist, and when you were working on a book in Iran, did you think of yourself as taking the kind of risks that could get you in prison?
Ms. SABERI: No, because I knew what I was doing was in compliance with the laws. I didn't have anything to hide, and I did my work very openly. But it's important to know that in Iran, you can detain anyone for anything. And in fact, there is a Human Rights Watch article with this very same title, about how people can be detained very easily in Iran.
The thing is, is when they want to make a political case for you, they make it. They don't care about reality. They don't care that you've been acting in compliance with the laws.
GROSS: Why do you think you were I mean, we'll talk about the official reasons that they gave for arresting you in a minute - but why do you think you were singled out for arrest by the Iranian government?
Ms. SABERI: You know, I'm still not sure. During my imprisonment, after some time, I reached some various conclusions about possible motives that they had, may have had, in my arrest. But on the day I was arrested, I certainly didn't know. The doorbell rang at nine in the morning on January 31st last year. And the monitor lit up in my apartment, and I saw that it was a man downstairs, and he said: You have a letter.
So I thought it was the mailman, and I opened the door. And he handed me a slip of paper, and I couldn't make much sense of it. I just saw on the piece of paper the word Evin. And my heart started to beat because I knew Evin prison, the most notorious prison of Iran. And I said, please, can I just have a moment to take a look at this because my Farsi isn't very good? And I tried to shut the door, but I couldn't because his foot was propping it open.
He came in with three men behind him, and they started going through all my belongings, and they told me I had to stay where they could see me, and they confiscated many of my belongings.
And they kept saying just cooperate. Cooperate and you'll be fine. And if not, we'll have to take you to Evin prison.
GROSS: And they took you to Evin prison. Why was that? Did you not, you know, quote, cooperate?
Ms. SABERI: According to them, I didn't cooperate. I learned that their definition of cooperate was to confess that I was a spy for America, and specifically that the book that I was writing about Iranian society, they claimed, was a cover for spying for America.
And it seemed like they really believed this accusation. Of course, this wasn't true. I wasn't a spy. My book wasn't a cover for anything, and so they took me to Evin prison that night.
GROSS: And what was your book that you were working on?
Ms. SABERI: It was a book about different kinds of people in Iranian society, from veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, women taxi drivers, women university students, a wide range of Iranians. And my captors seemed to have a problem with this. They kept asking me, why did you interview, quote, "so many people?" What business did you have interviewing them? We know that you wanted to leave the country soon and publish your book overseas.
And I said yeah, I wanted to get a publisher overseas, because the book is supposed to be in English, and I wanted show a more complete picture of Iranian society. And it's impossible to talk to just a few people and say all of Iranian society looks like this. I need a good cross-section.
And they kept saying no, no, somebody paid you to write this book and to actually use it as a cover for espionage. They said, for example, why did you interview with reformists? And I said, well, I also interviewed with conservatives. And they said yeah, well, you shouldn't have done that, either. So it seemed like they had a problem with anybody I had interviewed.
GROSS: One of the things I think you were accused of was practicing journalism without a license.
Ms. SABERI: There's this misperception out there. I think there is some confusion about - was I arrested because of reporting without a press pass, and was this illegal? And the answer to both of these questions is no. And I understand why there might be confusion, because when I was in prison, this was the reason that the Iranian authorities first gave for my arrest, and I didn't know about this until I was released, and I was surprised to hear it.
The work that I was doing as a reporter without a press pass was in compliance with the laws. In Iran, if you want to go to, for example, weekly meetings of, like, the government spokesperson or the spokesperson for the foreign ministry, you need a press pass. You just can't get in if you don't have one. And I wasn't going to those without my press pass.
But there's no law saying that you can't do the reporting that I was doing, for example, getting reaction from Iranians to the news and doing short news stories; and legal experts, such as Shirin Ebadi, who is the Nobel Peace Prize-winner for 2003. They have confirmed that the reporting that I was doing was not against the law. I knew this, and I worked openly.
Even if it would have been illegal to be reporting without a press pass in Iran, which it wasn't, the Iranian authorities should have tried me in the press court, where trials are supposed to be public and with a jury instead of the revolutionary courts.
I think the Iranian authorities' statement that I was detained for illegally reporting without a press pass was just another pretext to try to justify my detention to the public, but it didn't come up much at all during my interrogation or at court, and they showed themselves to be most concerned about my book.
And the other thing that is interesting is that my captors told me they knew I was going to leave the country soon. I was planning to leave in March of last year. And if my anything that I had been doing was really that much of a problem or had really made them suspicious, I don't think they would have waited until the end of six years to arrest me, like, the month or two before I was going to leave.
GROSS: So something you were accused of was copying secret documents. And you write that you'd been correcting grammar in some articles for a think-tank called the Center for Strategic Research - which is affiliated with the government, affiliated with the Expediency Council. I don't really know what the Expediency Council does.
But anyway, so they accused you of photocopying top secret documents. You insist that these documents were never labeled secret, that they weren't classified documents.
Ms. SABERI: Exactly. I didn't have any classified documents. I had a research article that was public information, but my captors lied and claimed I had a classified document, evidently to pretend that there was legitimacy to my case. And they tried to make me think that the research article I had was classified.
The judge in my first trial said that a handwritten letter on the front of this article stood for the word classified. It was the handwritten letter meme(ph) in Farsi. And I told him I had never heard of an article being marked classified with one handwritten letter. And I thought, besides, how could I know that my captors didn't write this there themselves, and meme could stand for many things.
Well, it wasn't until more than a month and a half after my release that I became absolutely certain the article I had was not classified at all. And by that time, I had talked to various Iranian legal experts, including the Nobel Peace Laureate, Shirin Ebadi. And actually I wanted to have her as my lawyer, but I was barred from having her. And they all told me there's no way an official document in Iran could be marked classified with a meme, and to be considered classified, an article like the one I had had to have the word classified either printed on it at the time of publication or stamped on it, and it had neither. And as Shirin Ebadi told me, it was all a trick.
I wrote about this in the book, so that readers can understand how shameless some Iranian authorities are in fabricating what they call evidence and charges against people. I wanted to show readers that even when you have not committed a crime in the Islamic republic, the authorities can create one for you if they want. And I have since found out that other political prisoners have been falsely accused of having classified documents.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Roxana Saberi, and she has reported on Iran for NPR, for Fox News, the BBC and other places. She was imprisoned for 100 days in Iran's Evin prison, where many political prisoners are held, and she's written a memoir about that called "Between Two Worlds." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Roxana Saberi, and we're talking about her 100-day imprisonment in Iran. She's a journalist from America who was living and working in Iran for several years, and she was charged with copying classified, secret documents. She was charged with working for the CIA.
She made a false confession so that in the hopes that would get her out of prison, and then she couldn't live with her conscience, and she recanted while she was still in prison. She was released after 100 days. Her new memoir is called "Between Two Worlds."
You were told early on, after your arrest, that if you didn't cooperate, and confess that you were a spy, you'd be sent to prison. And then in prison, you were told that you had to confess. And this is a scenario that I imagine a lot of people have played in their minds, like when you play the worst-case-scenario game, and you imagine what would it be like if I was in prison, and I was told to confess and that if I didn't confess, that I'd be, like, put to death or imprisoned for many years; and if I did confess, I'd know I was lying, and maybe they wouldn't really help me anyways.
So you had to do that whole mental calculus, knowing that your life was on the line, your future was on the line. Can you talk a little bit about what went through your mind when you were told that if you didn't confess, you'd face dire consequences?
Ms. SABERI: Yes. I knew, first of all, that there had been people before me, dual nationals, others who had been shown giving confessions on state-run television in Iran. There was a number of British sailors and Marines who were arrested in 2006, and they were shown given confessions on television, too, and it seemed to me - it was clear that these confessions were forced.
These people were released shortly after, and some of them recanted their confessions. And I knew this was the way things worked in the Islamic republic from the very beginning of the revolution 31 years. Political prisoners, especially, have been forced to give confessions about their activities, implicating themselves or others.
Not everybody is forced to give a confession, but it's usually somebody who symbolizes something - like an ideology or a group, or a country, like me.
I was under intense psychological pressure. They threatened to keep me in prison for many years. My interrogators said: We can keep you in prison for 10 years, 20 years. When you come out, you'll be an old lady. Can you imagine what you'll look like? And they also reminded me that espionage can carry the death penalty. And then they started telling me that: We have agents all over the world. You've seen how capable we are. We can even find your family.
The difficult thing for me was that nobody knew where I was, and I felt I had no way out. They told me if I say this false confession, they would set me free.
So I told myself, I'll make this confession. The most important thing is for me to get out of here safely, and when I do, I'll recant my confession, and I'll recant these lies.
GROSS: Now, before we get to recanting while you were still in prison, I'd like to talk a little bit about your relationship with the interrogators. Like, how did they try to manipulate you, and how do you try to get some kind of human understanding or sympathy from them? Or did you not even try, thinking that that was impossible? Maybe you could describe what your interrogator was like, because you basically had your interrogator.
Ms. SABERI: Yes, my chief interrogator was younger than his colleagues. Maybe he was around my age, in his lower 30s maybe, and he dressed like Westernized youth of northern Tehran. And because our interrogators would never tell us their real names, because they're intelligence agents, I made up a name for him. I called him Javon(ph), which means youth.
Of course, I never called him this to his face. He was very good at manipulating me. He was an expert, and I realized later that what I went through, even though they never touched me, I was not physically tortured at all, that there is a word for this manipulation and intimidation and these threats that they make against you, and it's actually a phrase called white torture.
It's a kind of torture that doesn't leave any physical marks on your body but can devastate the mind and the conscience. And they did that to me, especially in those first couple of weeks, when I was cut off from the world. And I thought: These people can kill me if they want. They can do what they want, and nobody would ever find out.
I knew what had happened in Evin prison before. I had heard about Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian journalist, who had been detained in Evin prison - and she had died mysteriously there. And I had heard about a mass execution, which took place earlier in the revolution, like 1988 or so. And I had heard about many political prisoners being held in Evin for years, and some had not come out.
So this, combined with my captors' threats, being in solitary confinement, not being able to have a lawyer, I was barred from having a lawyer, I was barred from telling my parents and my boyfriend my whereabouts, it all combined to make me cave in under their pressures at first.
GROSS: Right. So that's when you decided to confess, falsely confess.
Ms. SABERI: Yes, after the continued threats and pressures, and of course, they wanted me to spy for them, too.
GROSS: Yes, describe the proposition that they made you.
Ms. SABERI: They said another condition of my release, in addition to making this confession - which they claimed was true and of course is false - was that I spy for them. And I said: Well, what do you mean? And they said: Well, we've got all sorts of people collaborating with us, artists, athletes, journalists like you. We don't ask much of them. We just want them to gather some information about who's doing what, saying what, going where, with whom.
And so I pretended to agree because I thought, okay, I'll just pretend, and I'm going to get out of here, I'm going to escape, and I'm never going to do this. And later on, they started to describe what they wanted from me.
They wanted me, they said for example, they would give me a press pass to work in Iran for six months, and during this time, I was supposed to gather information about other journalists or diplomats in Iran and give it to them. And, you know, I was playing along so that they would believe me, so that they would free me. And they said, oh, it doesn't matter, anywhere you want.
And later, they asked me, for example, if I could gather classified information for them from the Americans. I mean, they were they seemed really serious about this. And I should say that they've asked of they've demanded this of other political prisoners, as well. I'm not the only one.
And they made threats. They said if you leave this place and tell anyone about these arrangements, the boss of my interrogator, he said - I will personally sign your death warrant. And then my interrogator Javon told me that they could come after me wherever I was in the world, and maybe I'd be on a reporting trip in Afghanistan, and they would make it look like I had died in a car accident. And I knew they were capable.
GROSS: Are you a little worried about that now, because you have told what happened to you? They also threatened they could go after your parents. So you have told what happened. You don't put the Iranian government in a very good light in your memoir. So are you worried that you or your family are or in the future might be in jeopardy?
Ms. SABERI: A little bit, yes. I know that if they want to come after me, they will, and I admit when I walk down the street sometimes, I look over my shoulder. Sometimes, when I check my email, I wonder, can they still monitor me? Or if I meet somebody new, I think: Is this person maybe an agent? Especially if they're Iranian, sometimes I wonder, which is terrible.
It's a terrible feeling, but I know other prisoners, political prisoners, often fear the same things, and this is a result of what they do to us there, the threats that they make against us.
But I wanted to tell this story because I feel like I have a responsibility to share the experiences that I went through and to expose the injustices that I experienced, and so many of my cellmates experienced and so many people are experiencing today.
I wanted to show how easily they fabricate charges against people, whether it's, you know, spying or soft revolution, or trying to undermine the regime through propaganda against the state or having a classified document. Other people have been falsely accused of all of these things.
I wanted to expose these methods that they're using and to say that we have to speak out against these actions, and it can make a difference when we speak out. I saw it in my case. People speaking out for me really helped me.
So I think it's worth this risk, and I don't know if they would actually come after me or not. I hope they don't, but it's a possibility. Maybe they have bigger priorities right now.
GROSS: Roxana Saberi will be back in the second half of the show. Her new memoir is called "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Roxana Saberi, author of the new memoir "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran."
She was an American journalist working in Iran, her father's native country, when she was arrested early last year. She was accused of copying secret documents and spying for the CIA. She insists on her innocence, but she caved into pressure to confess in return for an early release. Soon after confessing, she recanted, willing to face the consequences in order to have a clean conscience. After international calls for her release, an appeals court suspended her sentence. She was released last May.
Let's talk about what your confession was like. You say that in writing the story of your confession...
Ms. SABERI: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...your interrogator kind of helped you write the story.
Ms. SABERI: Yes.
GROSS: He kind of led you through it. How did he do that?
Ms. SABERI: Yes. Well, for example, he asked very leading questions, and sometimes he'd give, like, multiple choice questions that only two choices, and if I gave the wrong answer he would make his disapproval very clear. I'll give you an example for...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SABERI: I'm laughing about it now, but at the time, it was terrible. He said, for example, how much money did you get from this American to use your book as a cover to spy? And apparently...
GROSS: When he says this American, he means a CIA agent, because he seems to...
Ms. SABERI: Yeah. Well, he accused me of getting money from somebody who was either in the CIA or linked to the CIA. And they gave me a list of people I knew, Americans, and he said you have to pick one of these. And so I picked somebody completely innocent, and to this day, I feel horrible about it. At the time I thought this person is not in Iran and won't be coming here anytime in the near future. Maybe he'll understand that I need to do this to survive, because he's safe and I'm in danger. But that's another reason I recanted. I felt horrible about this lie.
So he would say, for example, how much money did you get from - I call this person Mr. D in my book. And I said, I had no idea how much people, you know, spies get. I have no idea.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SABERI: So I said $5,000? You know, I was just guessing. And he said, that's all? Like, apparently, it wasn't enough. And you can tell what they want from their questions, and when you don't answer them the way they want, they let you know. And they constantly, consistently threaten you. When you're there, every threat is very real.
GROSS: So you had to give your verbal testimony, and then did you have to write the testimony, too?
Ms. SABERI: Yes. I had to write it, and I had to say it on video.
GROSS: Yeah, in the video, they made you do it over because you didn't look natural and relaxed enough. They wanted you to smile more.
Ms. SABERI: Right. Well, my...
GROSS: It sounds like a bad TV show, you know, since you're not smiling enough.
Ms. SABERI: It was terrible. Like other people who have had to give false confessions, I also had to go on camera to say mine. And my plan was to look like I was under pressure when I was saying this. So I tried to avoid eye contact with the camera, I looked down. I had some notes that they said I could take. I looked down at my paper a lot. I had a lot of ums and ahs, and they didn't like this. So they brought me back another day and they said, you have to do this over again, because you didn't look natural enough. And I thought to myself, well, I didn't want to look natural. That was the whole point, so people know that I'm under pressure.
And I did it a total of four times on three different days, because they kept saying you're not looking natural enough. Use more hand gestures. Have more eye contact with the camera. You know, smile a little bit. And at the end, I was just so tired, and I realized they would not let me free until I did this thing the way they wanted, that I added a few hand gestures and I looked at the camera a little bit. And then Javan, the interrogator, came out from this curtain where the camera was, and he smiled and he said now I can tell you're an experienced broadcast journalist.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SABERI: And I was so angry at that point, but I couldn't so anything.
GROSS: Okay. So you finally gave them what they wanted. You gave them the verbal confession. You gave them the written confession. And you gave them, you know, like a nice, telegenic video confession. They said that they would release you after all of that. But after you gave them everything they wanted, what did they do with you?
Ms. SABERI: They didn't release me right away. They kept saying we'll release you tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and it took a while. In the meantime, they took me out of solitary confinement and they put me in a cell with some other women. Eventually, I recanted, and I found out after I was freed that I recanted two days after the Iranian authorities announced that I was going to be freed within days. So...
GROSS: But you didn't know that.
Ms. SABERI: I didn't know that at the time. No. But it just - it proves that they were planning to release me. They got what they wanted out of me, which was this false confession. They got it on tape. And if I hadn't recanted, who knows, maybe they would've aired it. Maybe they still will, after this book comes out and they hear interviews, they'll probably be furious with me and try to, you know, discredit me in whatever way they can. I don't doubt it.
GROSS: What do you think their real goal was? To get you to spy for them?
Ms. SABERI: You know, I think the interesting thing is after I recanted, Javan, my interrogator, told me we knew from the very beginning that your confession was false, and I was shocked. I mean, to - it's - best - essentially telling me that he knew I wasn't a spy, but he had made me say I was a spy. And he confirmed it later on. And the deputy prosecutor also acknowledged to me that he knew I wasn't a spy - in private, of course. They would never say this in court or anything.
So I started to wonder: Why did these people arrest me in the first place if they knew I wasn't a spy? It's as if they've been fanning this whole thing. They never had any deep suspicions of me, it seemed. And I came to various conclusions. One, they could get this false confession out me, which would serve many purposes for them, as it has - they've tried to use for other political prisoners, as well. They could use it to intimidate people who were advocating better relations with the West, specifically America, at a time when President Obama had just taken office and he was advocating more engagement with Iran.
They could also use it to consolidate support from their hard-line base. They could use my arrest and the confession to intimidate other journalists or dual nationals or writers. And I know that it did work. It scared some people in those categories. They could also use it as blackmail against me to get them to spy for them. And also, it's important to understand that Iranian hardliners like to argue that America has agents all over the country in the guise of very ordinary people like journalists, activists, even academics and people who have links with the West.
And this argument, in my opinion, is basically aimed at allowing them to crack down on society, to tighten their control of society and to silence their opponents. And to support this argument, they need real-life examples, people like me, people like other journalists who have been accused of espionage, activists, humanitarian workers, people who have been involved in exchange programs with America.
GROSS: My guest is Roxana Saberi. Her new memoir is called "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Roxana Saberi, and she was in Iran doing freelance reporting for the BBC, Fox News, NPR and other places. And she was also working on a book when she was arrested early last year. She spent 100 days in Evin prison, which is a prison that holds many of Iran's political prisoners. And she made a false confession, then recanted, and after a lot of international pressure, was finally released. Her new memoir is called "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran."
In your book, after you gave your false confession, you say that you felt so bad that you couldn't live up to the kind of quotes that used to be so important and inspirational to you, like a quote from Gandhi saying, "I do believe I am seeking only God's truth, and I have lost all fear of men," and that you thought you'd be stronger under pressure. You were disappointed in yourself. How did you decide to recant your confession while you were still in prison?
Ms. SABERI: From the moment I gave that false confession, I felt horrible. I felt I had lost my dignity. I felt I had lost any principles of truth and honesty that I had always hoped that I would be able to live up to, even under pressure. And I thought the God that I believed in must be disappointed in me, because I had feared death. I feared man so much that I was willing to sacrifice my own principles.
But I was scared to recant it at the time, because I was in solitary confinement. Nobody knew I'd been arrested. And later on, when I was put in a cell with other women prisoners - other political prisoners - and I saw the strength of some of them, and there was another woman who was accused of being a spy, too, and she hadn't buckled under her interrogator's pressures. They also pressured her to say she was a spy, but she wasn't, and she used to cry a lot and she used to weep a lot.
I remember thinking: Why don't you just cooperate and maybe you'll get out of here, you know? This is the way things work here. But I found out that she was much more content with herself. She told me even if she had to stay there, she was glad that she hadn't given a false confession. And when I saw women like this, I started to look at myself and I thought, okay, well, I do plan to recant. But I wanted to recant once I was freed. But if that's the case, even when my body will be free, my conscience will forever be behind bars.
I wanted to prove to myself that I could be strong, even under pressure, and that I would rather stay in prison having told the truth instead of being freed upon lies. And that's what I told the magistrate when I recanted my confession.
GROSS: And what were the consequences?
Ms. SABERI: Well, this made my captors very angry, and they decided not to free me. And instead, I was sent to trial, and I was given eight years in prison.
GROSS: But you didn't serve those eight years.
Ms. SABERI: No. I was very fortunate.
GROSS: What was the intervention on your behalf that got you out?
Ms. SABERI: Well, my parents came to Iran in early April. They surprised me. They came to Iran. And through them, I began to hear much more about efforts being made in different parts of the world by governments, strangers, ordinary people, students, human rights groups, journalism groups. They were all working on my behalf to release me, and they were making, apparently, a lot of noise, as my interrogator put it to me one day. And this was frustrating my captors so much.
I remember, on a few occasions, they tried to tell me or my parents, you know, this media coverage is bad for your daughter. You must know this is not to her benefit. And they threatened my parents basically that - Javan reminded my parents, you're in Iran on Iranian passports. God forbid a problem arise for you. So tell the foreign media not to talk so much about Roxana. And if you talk to the media, make sure you talk to the Iranian media, like the state-controlled media.
And one day, also, Javan brought me into the room and he was showing me all these news articles that he had printed off the Internet. And at that point, I had learned that it's best just not to engage with these people at all and not to talk to them. It really drives them up the wall. I mean, their tactic was to drive captors crazy by making these false accusations and to provoke us to have this wordy outburst. So I finally learned I should just stay quiet.
And so he was showing me all these articles like, BBC, CNN, Associated Press. He had highlighted the important parts for me, he said. And he kept reading off these headlines, like such-and-such organization has called for Roxana Saberi's release, and he was trying to get me to be afraid that these people were speaking out for me. But on the contrary, it was strengthening me, and I felt so humbled - a little embarrassed, too, that there was so much of an outcry for me, but so thankful. And it strengthened me to stand up to my captors.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Roxana Saberi and her new memoir is called "Between Two Worlds." It's a memoir about her imprisonment in Iran, where she was charged with photocopying documents for the CIA and being an agent for the CIA. She spent 100 days in Iran's Evin prison, a prison where many political prisoners are put. She made a false confession in the hopes of getting out, and then because her conscience couldn't handle it, she recanted while she was still in prison.
You had two lawyers during your imprisonment.
Ms. SABERI: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And the second one, and correct me if I'm saying his name wrong...
Ms. SABERI: Mm-hmm. Right.
GROSS: ...Saleh Nikbakht.
Ms. SABERI: Nikbakht. Yes.
GROSS: Yeah, so that second lawyer, after you were released from prison, told the press two things that you denied. One, that you'd photocopied secret documents, and you say that, no, those documents were never secret. They were not classified.
Ms. SABERI: Right.
GROSS: And he also accused you of meeting someone from the CIA who tried to recruit you. And you say about that, that that never happened.
Ms. SABERI: Right.
GROSS: So why do you think he would say things about you after your release that weren't true? This was your own lawyer.
Ms. SABERI: Right. He was not the lawyer I really wanted. The lawyers that I really wanted I was barred from having and even threatened that if I had Mr. Sultani(ph), the lawyer I wanted, that I would not be freed, basically. But I believe that Mr. Nikbakht, I believe this was all a plot. It was a setup. There must've been some kind of agreement behind the scenes between Mr. Nikbakht - I dont know about Mr. Haramsha(ph), my other lawyer - and the authorities, that the condition of my release would be that once I was released, Mr. Nikbakht would spread these lies about me. It's important to understand that attorneys in Iran have to be careful of their relations with the government in order to keep practicing in the courts and to stay out of trouble. Some lawyers who defy regime pressures have ended up in prison themselves.
And its interesting that my second attorney, I heard from a friend of mine just a couple of months ago, who is an activist outside Iran, the second attorney, Mr. Nikbakht, apparently called my friend before I was released and said Roxana's going to be released soon, I'm going to announce that she had a classified document, but you should deny this because it's not true. So this shows me that he must've been under pressure to make these false statements about me. And its a pity that some attorneys have to or do give into those kinds of pressures.
GROSS: Do you fear that because your own attorney spread rumors about you and accused you of, you know, taking secret documents and meeting with somebody from the CIA who tried to recruit you, that it has - do you fear that it has in some people's minds tarnished your credibility, that some people might believe the lawyer?
Ms. SABERI: I think it's natural that some people might believe the lawyer because people who aren't familiar maybe with the situation there think that, well, if an attorney says something about their clients, it must be true, but maybe they dont understand the context. I can't affect everybody's opinion about me and all I can do is tell the truth, and if they want to believe me, they can, and if they dont, they dont.
GROSS: Youre living in Fargo, where you grew up.
Ms. SABERI: Yeah.
GROSS: Fargo, North Dakota.
Ms. SABERI: Yeah.
GROSS: And are you living with your parents in their home?
Ms. SABERI: Yes, I am. Yeah.
GROSS: I'm just trying to imagine what its like to go from being in a horrible prison in Iran to living again with your parents where you grew up.
Ms. SABERI: Well, first I should say that I did enjoy my life in Iran very much before I was imprisoned and that's one reason I stayed there, is because I came to love the country and the people. And the people who imprisoned me I dont see as representing at all the majority of the Iranian people. So - but going from prison to Fargo was quite a transition. But it's wonderful being back with my parents and being able to spend more time with them. And I appreciate certain things that I took for granted before.
Ms. SABERI: Like basic freedoms: the freedom to walk down the street, to jog down the street, the freedom to walk without being blindfolded, the freedom to shut off your lights at night, the freedom to make a phone call without being monitored or with some tall intelligence agent hovering over you, threatening that you would stay in prison for years if you dont say what they say. The freedom to read a book, to write, to have a piece of paper and to have a pen. The freedom to floss my teeth, because floss is banned there. The freedom to speak - freedom of expression. The freedom of speech. The freedom to write a book without being accused of using it as a cover for espionage, whether or not they actually believe that accusation - so many freedoms, whether basic or more profound that I took for granted before, and I hope that my book in a ways is a celebration of this freedom.
GROSS: Roxana Saberi, thank you so much for talking with us. Thank you.
Ms. SABERI: Thanks for having me.
GROSS: Roxana Saberi's new memoir is called "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran." You can read the introduction on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
While in solitary confinement, Saberi composed some music and played it by tapping her fingers on the wall, imagining piano keys. Here's her recording of one of those compositions, "Remember to Fly."
(Soundbite of song, "Remember to Fly")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.