Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Free Roxana

I was in Iran while the Shah was still in power. If that seems like “ancient” history now, please pause and consider that it was before the ayatollahs (and all the tail-gating achmadinajads) ushered in a time machine that actually worked! Amid the backsliding of centuries since the Islamic Revolution, anything western, anything “open,” anything only faintly “American,” is regarded as evil—so much so, it is necessary for me to consult my notes to recall, and believe, the respect I received in those days solely because I was an American.

Roxana Saberi is a 31-year-old American-Iranian freelance journalist born and raised in Fargo, N.D., who moved to Iran six years ago where, this past February, she was arrested—initially for purchasing a bottle of wine, banned under Islamic laws—and charged with espionage, tried, convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for spying for the United States in Iran.

Roxana could only suit an Iranian profile of a spy: chosen Miss North Dakota in 1997, among the top ten finalists in Miss America 1998. She is, or at least was, working on a third Master’s Degree.

Her lawyer and the U.S. Dept. of State call the charges of espionage baseless. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that in 2008, Iran was the sixth-leading jailer of journalists.

The following is an open, impassioned letter from her fiancé, award-winning Kurdish Iranian filmmaker, Bahman Ghobadi.

"To Roxana Saberi, Iranian with an American passport"

If I kept quiet until now, it was for her sake. If today I speak, it is for her sake.

She is my friend, my fiancée, and my companion. An intelligent and talented young woman whom I have always admired.

It was the 31st of January. The day of my birthday. That morning, she called to say she would pick me up so we would go out together. She never came. I called on her mobile, but it was off, and for two-three days I had no idea what had happened to her. I went to her apartment, and since we had each other's keys, I went in, but she wasn't there. Two days later, she called and said: "Forgive me my dear; I had to go to Zahedan." I got angry: why hadn't she said anything to me? I told her I didn't believe her, and again she said: "Forgive me my dear, I had to go." And the line was cut. I waited for her to call back. But she didn't call back. She didn't call back.

I left for Zahedan. I looked for her in every hotel, but nobody had ever heard her name. For ten days, thousands of wild thoughts came to my mind. Until I learned, through her father, she had been arrested. I thought it was a joke.

I thought it was a misunderstanding and that she would be released after two or three days. But days went by and I had no news from her. I started to worry and knocked on every door for help, until I understood what had happened.

It is with tears in my eyes that I say she is innocent and guiltless. It is me, who has known her for years, and shared every moment with her, who declares it. She was always busy reading and doing her research. Nothing else. During all these years I've known her, she wouldn't go anywhere without letting me know, nor would do anything without asking my advice. To her friends, her family, everyone that surrounded her, she had given no signs of unreasonable behavior. How come someone who would spend days without going out of her apartment, except to see me; someone who, like a Japanese lady, would carefully spend her money, and had sometimes trouble making a living; someone who was looking for a sponsor to get in contact with a local publisher so her book would be printed here (in Iran); could now be charged with a spying accusation?! We all know - no, we have all seen in movies - that spies are malicious and sneaky, that they peep around for information, and that they are very well paid. And now my heart is full of sorrow. Because it is me who incited her to stay here. And now I can't do anything for her. Roxana wanted to leave Iran. I kept her from it.

At the beginning of our relationship, she wanted to go back to the United States. She would have liked us to go together. But I insisted for her to stay until my new film was over. … And now I am devastated, for it is because of me she has been subject to these events. These past years, I have been subject to a serious depression… because my movie had been banned, and released on the black market. My next movie was not given an authorization, and I was forced to stay at home. If I've been able to stand it until today, it is thanks to the presence and help that she provided me with. … I was nervous and ill-tempered. And she was always there to calm me down. …

I wanted her to write the book she had started in her head. … She was absorbed by her book, to the point that she could stay and bear it all, until my film would be finished, and we would leave together.

Roxana's book was a praise to Iran. The manuscripts exist, and it will certainly be published one day, and all will see it. But why have they said nothing? All those who have talked, worked and sat with her, and who know how guiltless she is.

I am writing this letter for I am worried about her. I am worried about her health. I heard she was depressed and cried all the time. She is very sensitive. To the point she refuses to touch her food. My letter is a desperate call to all statesmen and politics, and to all those who can do something to help. From the other side of the ocean, the Americans have protested against her imprisonment, because she is an American citizen. But I say no, she is Iranian, and she loves Iran. I beg you, let her go! I beg you not to throw her in the midst of you political games! She is too weak and too pure to take part in your games. Let me be present at her trial, sit next to her wise father and gentle mother, and testify she is without guilt or reproach.

However, I am optimistic about her release, and I firmly hope the verdict will be cancelled in the next stage of the trial.

My Iranian girl with Japanese eyes and an American ID, is in jail. Shame on me! Shame on us!

Ghobadi’s call bears repeating: “My letter is a desperate call to… all those who can do something to help.” My entry here is a call to all for help. Please add your voice to it.

Write to: His Excellency Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee,
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran
622 Third Ave.
New York, NY 1007

And go to:


  1. I'm an American citizen who can not believe that this is not Iranian propaganda. They must feel that the more attention they get, whether good or bad, will keep them in the news and keep fear in everybody. Roxanna is a beautiful, frail and innocent young woman. Who could be better or EASIER for Iran to target. It seems they wouldn't dare pick on someone who could actually fight back or who might be guilty. What a sorry state!!!

  2. This woman lived and worked in Iran for six years--almost three of them without official accreditation! She knew what country she was in and how things worked there--or at least she should have! The U.S. doesn't need to be dealing with this now on top of all our other problems. I have a feeling Iran is going to milk this for all its worth to get whatever concessions is can from the U.S. all because this incredibly STUPID woman didn't know when to leave town! I hope she rots!

  3. It behooves me to write in defense of Roxana Saberi in part because treating her as a perpetrator runs the risk of extreme ignorance and profound arrogance, and also in part because it is the right thing to do.

    Firstly, I think it would be prudent to portray Roxana not as your typical damsel in distress; she is not. Miss Saberi is a highly educated and accomplished woman who deserves respect as both a professional and as one of a long list of journalists Iran has imprisoned.

    Secondly, she is a United States citizen being charged with a baseless accusation of international espionage. This should be the concern of any law-abiding US citizen who has worked, traveled, or studied abroad. Similarly, Saberi is also a citizen of Iran. For her to be charged as a national without respect to her dual-citizenship is both a mockery and a threat to our judicial process.

    And finally, we need not inject personal politics into this matter. A US citizen is being held hostage by a warmongering nation. I think it is safe to say that even George W. Bush's State Department (and dare I say it... Dick Cheney), would be outraged by what has happened to this poor person and her family. It deserves our attention, our respects, and even our sympathies.

    This is no distraction to 'all our other problems.' This is all of our problem. There is no otherwise.

  4. i feel compelled to address the comment by "anonymous" - i am appalled by your blatant ignorance and complete lack empathy... an innocent woman is unjustly being imprisoned and is in grave danger and all you can do is call her "stupid?" shame on you, anonymous... shame...

  5. Iran to free jailed American journalist:

    "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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