'Dead or Alive' Detained Journalist's Father Discusses Iranian Case

Resa Saberi, 68, talks to SPIEGEL about the hunger strike by his daughter Roxana, 32, an American-Iranian journalist who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison in Tehran for alleged espionage.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Saberi, when did you last see your daughter?

Saberi: On Tuesday, Roxana's lawyer had an appointment with her and I accompanied him. I was allowed to sit next to Roxana for about a half an hour and I held her hand. Psychologically, she is strong and feisty. She knows that she's innocent and that gives her strength. Physically, though, she has been weakened by her hunger strike.

A poster of of imprisoned Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi is seen as Reporters Without Borders USA demonstrate on May 3, 2009, World Press Freedom Day, across from the UN headquarters in New York.
AFP

A poster of of imprisoned Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi is seen as Reporters Without Borders USA demonstrate on May 3, 2009, World Press Freedom Day, across from the UN headquarters in New York.

SPIEGEL: Legal officials in Tehran dispute the fact that your daughter is actually refusing to eat.

Saberi: My daughter is a very determined woman. She said that she wants out of the prison -- "dead or alive". As her parents, we take that very seriously and we are very concerned. My wife and I have attempted to talk Roxana out of this action. But as far as I know, she has only been drinking water with a little bit of sugar for the past 10 days.

SPIEGEL: How often are you in contact?

Saberi: The regular visiting day for us parents is Monday. On Saturday, she is permitted to call us -- either on my mobile telephone or on her own normal landline telephone because we've been living in her Tehran apartment since our arrival from the US. We were also allowed to visit her on Sunday, April 26. That was her birthday. My wife and I brought her flowers …

SPIEGEL: … and you hoped that you could celebrate Roxana's next birthday without and problems in the US?

Saberi: At the very least, we hope that the appeal process will happen within a few weeks and that her sentence will be reduced. Perhaps there will even be an acquittal. The fact that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on the state public prosecutor to review the case again could help Roxana. We are also considering appealing to Revolutionary Leader Ali Khamenei for clemency.

SPIEGEL: Do you see your daughter as the victim of a political power struggle in Tehran or also of the conflict between Iran and the US?

Saberi: It could be that Roxana was doomed by the fact that she has dual citizenship as an Iranian and an American. That's why she herself wanted to find a further lawyer who had experience with political cases. That's why we went to Shirin Ebadi.

SPIEGEL: The most prominent lawyer in Iran and also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

Saberi: But there were personal differences between the state prosecutor and the lawyer from her law firm. Ms. Ebadi herself is currently abroad. That is why we stopped working together. We are now searching for another lawyer more familiar with political trials.

SPIEGEL: Are you also looking at the different allegations against your daughter?

Reza Saberi and his wife Akiko blow candles on a cake on the eve of their daughter's 32nd birthday at the journalist's apartment in Tehran.
AFP

Reza Saberi and his wife Akiko blow candles on a cake on the eve of their daughter's 32nd birthday at the journalist's apartment in Tehran.

Saberi: The illegal purchase of alcohol, over which much has been reported, is not a subject of the proceedings. During her first call to me, Roxana said she had been arrested for buying a bottle of wine. She had been ordered to tell me that this was the reason for her arrest on January 31.

It also isn't true that Roxana reported as a journalist without accreditation from Ershad, the authority for culture and Islamic leadership. All she did was translate and summarize articles from the Iranian press. She then sent these reports to America. In regards to the official charge of espionage, our lawyer has not found any truly persuasive evidence.

SPIEGEL: Have you already discussed with your daughter what you will do after there is a decision in the appeal?

Saberi: We are hoping she will be released, possibly before the presidential election on June 12. If this were to happen, our daughter will leave Iran as fast as possible -- probably forever.

Interview conducted by Dieter Bednarz.

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