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Roxana Saberi

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Roxana Saberi
Roxana Saberi headshot.jpeg
Born Roxana Saberi
(1977-04-26) April 26, 1977 (age 40)
Belleville, New Jersey, United States
Education Concordia College
Northwestern University
Hughes Hall, Cambridge
Occupation Journalist Translator
Notable credit(s) Miss North Dakota, 1997
Family Father: Reza Saberi (Iran)
Mother: Akiko Saberi (Japan)

Roxana Saberi (Persian: رکسانا صابری‎‎) (born April 26, 1977) is an American freelance journalist[1] and former Miss North Dakota pageant winner. She was held prisoner in Iran's Evin Prison for 101 days under accusations of espionage.[2] She subsequently wrote a book about the experience.

On April 8, 2009, the Iranian government charged Saberi with espionage, which she denied.[3] She was subsequently convicted and sentenced to an eight-year prison term.[4][5][6][7] An appeals court reduced the charge against her from espionage to possessing classified information,[8] a charge which she also denied,[9] and reduced her eight-year prison term to a two-year suspended sentence.[10][11] She was released on May 11, 2009.


Early life

Saberi was born in Belleville, New Jersey, the daughter of Reza Saberi, who was born in Iran, and Akiko Saberi, who emigrated from Japan. When she was six months old, her family moved to Fargo, North Dakota.[12][13] Graduating with honors from Fargo North High School in 1994, Saberi played piano and soccer, and took part in Key Club and danceline.[14] Saberi was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2007.[14]

She graduated in 1997 from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, with degrees in Communication and French. Saberi also played for the Cobbers soccer team from 1994 to 1996.[15]

Chosen as Miss North Dakota in 1997,[15] she was among the top ten finalists in Miss America 1998, winning the Scholar Award.[14] Saberi holds her first master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern University and her second master's degree in International Relations from the University of Cambridge,[16] where she played for the university soccer team and the King's College, Cambridge, soccer team.[17] She was working on another master's degree in Iranian Studies at the time of her arrest.[18][19]


Saberi moved to Iran in 2003.[13] US-based Feature Story News (FSN) distributed her reports to a wide range of broadcasters around the world, and Saberi's work soon became circulated to the viewers and listeners of Channel News Asia, South African Broadcasting, DW Radio, Vatican Radio, Radio New Zealand, Australian Independent Radio News, and others. She also made occasional contributions to PBS, NPR, and Fox News.[13]

In 2006, the Iranian authorities revoked Saberi's press accreditation and closed the FSN bureau in Iran.[20] She maintained a second press accreditation, permitting her to freelance in Iran for the BBC. In late 2006, it was also revoked. Following the revocation of her second press accreditation, Saberi cut ties with the BBC but continued to file occasional reports from the country for NPR, IPS and ABC Radio.

Iranian trial and imprisonment, and calls for release

Evin House of Detention, where Saberi was held

Saberi was arrested on January 31, 2009. On March 3, 2009, an Iranian judiciary spokesman confirmed that Roxana Saberi had been arrested on the orders of the Islamic Revolutionary Court. Although Saberi holds both Iranian and American citizenship, Iran does not recognize dual citizenship.[1][21]

On March 10, a number of international news organizations wrote an open letter to the Iranian government, calling on Iran to allow independent access to Saberi. Signatories included President of NPR Vivian Schiller, President of ABC News David Westin, Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Robert Thomson, John Stack of Fox News, and Jon Williams (world editor at the BBC). The open letter expressed deep concern about Saberi's well-being and "the deprivation of her rights":[22][23]

After more than five weeks' captivity, on March 8, Saberi was allowed to see an attorney for the first time. On March 18, marking 47 days of detention, the Saberi family called on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intervene during the run-up to the Persian Nowruz holiday.[24] The US administration expressed its concern at Saberi's detention, dismissing allegations against her as "baseless". US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded her release.[25] On April 6, her parents were allowed a 30-minute visit to Saberi in Evin Prison, where she was being held.[26]

On April 8, the Iranian government charged Saberi with espionage,[4][5] while the Iranian Students News Agency, quoting a hard-line judge who is the deputy head of Iran's prosecutor's office, said Saberi had "accepted" the accusation of espionage.[27] Saberi’s father, who was in Iran at the time but was not allowed into the courtroom, told NPR his daughter was coerced into making incriminating statements. "They told her if she made the statements they would free her," he said. "It was a trick."[28] The court sentenced her to eight years in prison, which her lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi promised to appeal.[6][7][29]

Switzerland represents United States interests in Iran, as Iran and the United States do not presently have diplomatic relations. US State Department spokesman Robert Wood raised questions about the transparency of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court judicial system, commenting that a Swiss representative was not allowed in the courtroom during Saberi's trial.[30]

On April 19, 2009, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Saberi must have her legal right to defend herself. He wrote to the prosecutors: "Please, personally observe the process to ensure that the defendants are allowed all legal rights and freedom in defending themselves and that their rights are not violated even by one iota".[31] It was reported on April 21 that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi's organization, Human Rights Defenders, would defend Saberi during her appeal.[32] This appointment was never completed, amid reports of objections by Iranian authorities. On April 21, 2009, Bahman Ghobadi, an Iranian film director, published a letter declaring Saberi's innocence and urging those who knew her to step in and defend her.[33]

Hunger strike

On April 25, 2009, the BBC reported that Saberi's father, Reza Saberi, said he had received word from his daughter that she had been on a hunger strike for the past five days.[34] At the end of two weeks, she told him she had discontinued the hunger strike.[35]

During this time, her situation was followed closely by Amnesty International,[36] Human Rights Watch,[37] the Asian American Journalists Association,[38] Committee to Protect Journalists,[39] Society of Professional Journalists, and UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc.[40] Amnesty International later named her a prisoner of conscience.[41]


On May 10, 2009, Saberi's appeal was heard by an Iranian appeals court. The court reportedly dismissed the charges against her on the grounds that the US is not a hostile country because it is not at war with Iran. Her original conviction was on the charges that she was working with a "hostile country" – the United States.

On May 11, 2009, Saberi was freed from prison after the appeals court suspended her eight-year jail sentence.[42] An appeals court reduced the charge against her from espionage to possessing classified information,[43][44] a charge Saberi denied,[9] and reduced her eight-year prison term to a two-year suspended sentence.[10][11]

After her release, Saberi said that although she was not physically tortured during her captivity, she was placed under "severe psychological and mental pressure". She said her captors blindfolded her during days of interrogation, held her in solitary confinement, and would not allow her to inform anyone of her whereabouts. According to Saberi, her interrogators threatened her with many years in prison and even execution if she did not confess to being a spy. She said that under these pressures, she had made a false confession, which she later recanted while still in custody.[3]

After Saberi was released from prison, one of her lawyers declared that she had obtained a classified document while working as a translator for a powerful clerical lobby. He claimed that this had been used as evidence to convict her on charges of espionage.[44] He said the document was a classified Iranian report on the U.S.-led war in Iraq.[45]

Saberi later said "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."[46] Saberi has suggested that the lawyer may have been under pressure from the Iranian government to say after her release that the document was classified, even though in court he had argued that it was not.[46]

Life after imprisonment

Since her release, Saberi wrote a book about her experiences in Iran, Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran, which was released by HarperCollins on March 30, 2010.[47][48] She has also been speaking out for Iran's "prisoners of conscience"[49] as well as the Iranians who have been detained in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian Presidential Election.[50]

Saberi's awards include the 2008 Medill Medal of Courage,[51] the 2009 Ilaria Alpi Freedom of the Press Award,[52] the 2009 NCAA Award of Valor,[53] and a 2010 Project on Middle East Democracy Award.[54]

In 2013 Saberi was hired by Al Jazeera America as a correspondent and senior producer.[55]


See also


  1. ^ a b "Iran insists against hyping Saberi case" Press TV, deadlink 16 June 2009
  2. ^ Roxana Saberi On Her Imprisonment In Iran
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b "Iran Charges Detained American Reporter With Espionage". Fox News. 2009-04-08. Retrieved 2009-04-08. 
  5. ^ a b Nazila Fathi (2009-04-18). "American Journalist Stands Trial in Iran". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  6. ^ a b "Iran jails journalist as US spy". BBC News. 2009-04-18. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  7. ^ a b "Iran jails U.S.-Iranian reporter for 8 years". Washington Post. 2009-04-18. Retrieved 2009-04-18. [dead link]
  8. ^ Reporter Saberi leaves Iran jail, BBC News; Jailed US journalist Roxana Saberi 'had secret document on war in Iraq', TimesOnline
  9. ^ a b ,[1] NPR "Roxana Saberi On Her Imprisonment in Iran, May 28, 2009
  10. ^ a b "U.S. Reporter Jailed in Iran to Soon Be Freed". Fox News. 2009-05-11. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  11. ^ a b "Jailed Iran reporter 'to be free'". BBC. 2009-05-11. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  12. ^ Mackey, Robert (2009-03-02). "Iran Says an American’s Reports Were ‘Illegal’". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  13. ^ a b c Stephey, M.J. (2009-05-07). "Imprisoned Journalist Roxana Saberi". Time. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  14. ^ a b c "2007 Hall of Fame". Fargo North High School. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  15. ^ a b "Roxana Saberi". Concordia College. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  16. ^ "Roxana Saberi". College News. Hughes Hall, Cambridge. 2009-04-21. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  17. ^ Lock, Beccy (Autumn 2000). "Fantasy football" (pdf). King's Parade. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  18. ^ "Profile: Roxana Saberi" BBC News 15 May 2009, accessed 16 June 2009
  19. ^ "Iran Releases Jailed U.S. Journalist Saberi" 11 May 2009 National Public Radio, accessed 16 June 2009
  20. ^ News, A. B. C. (2009-05-29). "Freed Iran Prisoner: God 'Abandoned Me'". ABC News. Retrieved 2017-03-22. 
  21. ^ "Iran confirms reporter detention". BBC News. 2009-03-03. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  23. ^ "Broadcasters urge Saberi access". BBC News. 2009-03-13. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  24. ^ Henry Newman and Coco Ferguson (2009-03-25). "Iran must free Roxana Saberi". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  25. ^ "Clinton concern for Iran reporter". BBC News. 2009-04-08. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  26. ^ "Parents visit captive journalist". BBC News. 2009-04-06. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  27. ^ "ISNA: "Saberi "accepted" accusation of espionage". Reuters. 2009-04-18. Archived from the original on April 22, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Iran sentences US reporter to 8 years in jail". The Times of India. 2009-04-18. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  30. ^ The original source "WashP1" is no longer available; related WP articles U.S. Journalist Sentenced in Iran of April 19 and Iran Holds Closed Trial For American Journalist of April 15 are still online but do not mention spokesman Wood. DoS press briefings: on March 8, Switzerland request consular access to Ms. Saberi (March 17), US have reached out to their Swiss protecting power to find out more (April 8 press briefing).
  31. ^ Iran leader urges reporter rights BBC 19 April 2009 (with embedded videos of Saberi's mother and President Obama)
  32. ^ Thomas Erdbrink, "Iranian Nobel Winner to Defend U.S. Journalist", The Washington Post (April 21, 2009), available online at
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Saberi 'on hunger strike' in Iran". BBC. 2009-04-25. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  35. ^ "Roxana Saberi interrupts hunger strike". 2009-05-06. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  36. ^ "Iran: Possible prisoner of conscience: Roxana Saberi (f)". Amnesty International. 2009-03-16. 
  37. ^ "Iran: Illegal Detention of Iranian-American Journalist". Human Rights Watch website. 2009-03-13. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  38. ^ "AAJA Calls for Release of Journalist Detained in Iran". 2009-03-04. 
  39. ^ "Saberi, Roxana". Committee to Protect Journalists. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  40. ^ "UNITY Calls for Immediate Release of Journalist Roxana Saberi". UNITY website. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  41. ^ "Iran: Further Information on Prisoner of Conscience: Roxana Saberi (F)". Amnesty International. 12 May 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  42. ^ LA Times, May 12 2009 - Iran frees U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi
  43. ^ Reporter Saberi leaves Iran jail, BBC News
  44. ^ a b Jailed US journalist Roxana Saberi 'had secret document on war in Iraq', TimesOnline
  45. ^ Journalist Copied Iranian Report on U.S. and Iraq, Washington Post
  46. ^ a b Roxana Saberi: Caught 'Between Two Worlds', NPR, 2010-03-30.
  47. ^ "Read Excerpt: 'Between Two Worlds' by Roxana Saberi". ABC News. 30 March 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  48. ^ Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran, Harper Collins
  49. ^ [2]"Will Elections Loosen the Grip of Iran's Hard-liners?" The Washington Post, June 11, 2009
  50. ^ [3]"Journalist Roxana Saberi urges Iran to free aid worker, expresses worry about current unrest," Associated Press, June 24, 2009
  51. ^ The Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism, Medill School Northwestern University
  52. ^ A Roxana Saberi il premio Ilaria Alpi 2009 per la liberta
  53. ^ NCAA Awards of Valor go to Phillips, Saberi, National Collegiate Athletic Association, 2009-11-11
  54. ^ POMED's Annual Award Reception
  55. ^

External links

International press
Iranian Press