02 March 2009

Roxana Saberi ~ Journalist Detained In Iran

How to help North Dakotan held in Iran
By Jill Burcum
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Last update: March 2, 2009 - 6:15 PM

Roxana Saberi, a brave young journalist from North Dakota now detained in Iran, has some heavyhitters pushing for her release: North Dakota’s two senators, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, as well as Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar.

But Saberi also needs the public’s help. Phone calls and emails to the Iranian mission at the United Nations in New York will send a strong message to Iranian authorities that Saberi’s is a global plight and they need to act now to release her.

Saberi, a 31-year-old of Iranian and Japanese descent, is a 1994 honors graduate of Fargo North High School and went on to graduate from Concordia College in Moorhead and Cambridge University in Britain. For the past six years, she’s lived in Iran and has reported for the BBC and National Public Radio and other media outlets. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), she’s been detained by Iranian authorities since January. Details are sketchy about why she is being held and where she is.

Wire services have reported that Iranian officials have accused her of "illegal" reporting activities. In a phone call to her father Reza Saberi in early February, however, she said she was being held for buying a bottle of wine, which is illegal in Iran but also not uncommon. Saberi, a former Miss Dakota and "Miss Scholar" in the Miss America pageant, has not been heard from since that Feb. 10 phone call.

Iran has one of world’s worst records when it comes to imprisoning journalists and activists. Saberi is in a dangerous situation. A young Canadian-Iranian photojournalist died in custody in July 2003 after being held for three weeks for taking photos of a student protest in Tehran, according to CPJ.

The U.S. State Department is making inquiries about Saberi through Swiss diplomatic channels; the U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations. A French wire service reported Monday that the Iranian judiciary will hold a press conference on Tuesday during which Saberi’s situation will be addressed.CPJ program coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem said that this action by the Iranian authorities confirms that Saberi is likely being held for reasons far more serious than buying wine. The press conference, he said, is welcome and a sign that "she’s not in as bad a shape as she could be."

Human rights officials believe that generating as much publicity for Saberi will help pressure Iranians to release her — and do it sooner versus later. To register your concerns with the Iranian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, call 212-687-2020 or email them at iran@un.int. Emails to the offices of Conrad, Dorgan and Klobuchar will also help. There’s also a fledgling Facebook group supporting Saberi called "Release and return journalist Roxana Saberi from IR custody." As of Monday afternoon, there were just 25 members. Her situation is serious. A full-throated roar of outrage from the Midwest and around the world is a crucial key to this young woman’s well-being and future.

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