IRAN: A father waits for a daughter convicted of espionage

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Reza Saberi is not accustomed to espionage and the intricacies of international politics. But the case of his daughter, Roxana, an Iranian American journalist convicted of spying for the U.S., has brought him from his home in North Dakota to an apartment on the outskirts of Tehran.

Roxana has been sentenced to eight years in prison. Washington and international human-rights groups have called for her release, saying the accusations against her were fabricated and that her one-day trial last week was a sham. Reza Saberi shuttles from the lawyer’s office to Evin Prison, where Roxana awaits her appeal while Washington and Tehran are contemplating their next moves.


The case has complicated the Obama administration’s attempts to improve relations with the Islamic government, most notably over Tehran’s nuclear program. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has urged prosecutors to ensure Saberi receives “justice and fairness” in her appeal, an indication that Iran may be seeking to resolve the case before it jeopardizes diplomatic efforts with Washington.

Today, Iran’s highest judge, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, ordered the Tehran court to consider the “appeals stage in a careful, quick and fair way,” according to the official IRNA news agency.

Reza Saberi, a native of Iran, visited his 31-year-old daughter this morning. He sat down later for an interview with The Times:

What is Roxana’s emotional and psychological state? You had mentioned earlier that she had talked about a hunger strike.

‘Yes, she has been thinking about that. However, we have persuaded her so far not to do so. She is physically pretty frail and it would be hard for her to endure a hunger strike. But I do not know even today if it was on her mind or not. Maybe she is still contemplating it.’

How would you describe your days since arriving in Tehran? What’s it been like waiting without much information?

‘We are very much concerned about our daughter. But ... we are happy that we have a place to stay and we are just living day by day waiting for what will come next.’


Did she ever mention how dangerous it might by reporting from Iran?

‘She did not mention it. We mention it. But she still took the risk. She knew, but she took the risk.’

The Iranian authorities said Roxana confessed to spying. Did she confess? You had said over the weekend that she was tricked into a confession?

‘At this time, I would like to wait on the answer to that. Because this is something that her lawyer is trying to find out. As far as we are concerned, we think our daughter is innocent. What is in the file, we do not know the details.’

When did you first learn of Roxana’s arrest and what were you told?

‘The first time it was Feb. 10, when she called. It was a very short conversation and she had told us they had detained her because she bought a bottle of wine. That was the first time. Ten days after that, we lost contact with her. We were all wondering where she was. The second time she called, she said that she was still being detained. After that, we had to wait until the lawyer visited our daughter.’

She’s a U.S. citizen. Has Washington done enough to help her?

‘Their hands are tied because the U.S. has no embassy here and, of course, if they had an embassy it would not have happened. So they are trying hard to work through other embassies, especially through the Swiss embassy, which is acting as an intermediary. But the U.S.’ hands are tied.’

What’s Roxana like? She holds master’s degrees and was Miss North Dakota in 1997. What drives her? What are her ambitions? Why did she become a journalist?

‘She likes journalism. She likes to be with people. ... She is an achiever. She likes to study and also to learn about different cultures and nations.’

Is there a telling anecdote that describes Roxana?

‘She is curious to know about any place she lives. She has an inquisitive mind and wants to find out the truth and the facts in the things she studies. She has studied many books. She is an expert of Middle East, judging from the number of books she has studied. Since childhood, she wanted to accomplish. She has the ambition to become the first and getting ahead.’


-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo