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Roxana Saberi

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Roxana Saberi
Roxana Saberi headshot.jpeg
Roxana Saberi

(1977-04-26) April 26, 1977 (age 44)
Belleville, New Jersey, United States
EducationConcordia College
Northwestern University
Hughes Hall, Cambridge
OccupationJournalist translator
Notable credit(s)
Miss North Dakota, 1997
FamilyFather: Reza Saberi (Iran)
Mother: Akiko Saberi (Japan)

Roxana Saberi (born April 26, 1977) is an American freelance journalist[1] and former Miss North Dakota pageant winner. In 2009, 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 a master's degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University and a 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 recognise dual citizenship.[1][21]

On March 10, a number of international news organisations 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]

We now ask that one or more international organizations that have responsibilities and rights under the Geneva Conventions be permitted access to Roxana immediately to ascertain her health and well-being and to determine the conditions under which she is held. If no charges are filed, we now urge her immediate release and ask that she be given permission to return to her home country, the United States.

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 US-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]

Saberi joined CBS News in January 2018 and is based in London.[56]


  • Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran. Harper 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-196528-9

See also


  1. ^ a b "Iran insists against hyping Saberi case". Press TV. April 27, 2009. Archived from the original on April 28, 2009. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  2. ^ "Roxana Saberi On Her Imprisonment In Iran".
  3. ^ a b "Freed Iran Prisoner: God 'Abandoned Me'". ABC News. May 29, 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Iran Charges Detained American Reporter With Espionage". Fox News Channel. April 8, 2009. Archived from the original on April 11, 2009. Retrieved April 8, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Nazila Fathi (April 18, 2009). "American Journalist Stands Trial in Iran". The New York Times. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  6. ^ a b "Iran jails journalist as US spy". BBC News. April 18, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  7. ^ a b "Iran jails U.S.-Iranian reporter for 8 years". The Washington Post. April 18, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.[dead link]
  8. ^ Reporter Saberi leaves Iran jail, BBC News; Jailed US journalist Roxana Saberi 'had secret document on war in Iraq', The Times
  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 Channel. May 11, 2009. Archived from the original on November 27, 2011. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
  11. ^ a b "Jailed Iran reporter 'to be free'". BBC. May 11, 2009. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
  12. ^ Mackey, Robert (March 2, 2009). "Iran Says an American's Reports Were 'Illegal'". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2009.
  13. ^ a b c Stephey, M.J. (May 7, 2009). "Imprisoned Journalist Roxana Saberi". Time. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
  14. ^ a b c "2007 Hall of Fame". Fargo North High School. Archived from the original on April 15, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  15. ^ a b "Roxana Saberi". Concordia College. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  16. ^ "Roxana Saberi". College News. Hughes Hall, Cambridge. April 21, 2009. Retrieved May 12, 2009.
  17. ^ Lock, Beccy (Autumn 2000). "Fantasy football" (PDF). King's Parade. Retrieved May 12, 2009.
  18. ^ "Profile: Roxana Saberi". BBC News. May 15, 2009. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
  19. ^ "Iran Releases Jailed U.S. Journalist Saberi" May 11, 2009. National Public Radio. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
  20. ^ "Freed Iran Prisoner: God 'Abandoned Me'". ABC News. May 29, 2009. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
  21. ^ "Iran confirms reporter detention". BBC News. March 3, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  23. ^ "Broadcasters urge Saberi access". BBC News. March 13, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  24. ^ Henry Newman and Coco Ferguson (March 25, 2009). "Iran must free Roxana Saberi". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  25. ^ "Clinton concern for Iran reporter". BBC News. April 8, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  26. ^ "Parents visit captive journalist". BBC News. April 6, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  27. ^ "ISNA: "Saberi "accepted" accusation of espionage". Reuters. April 18, 2009. Archived from the original on April 22, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  28. ^ "Father: Iranians 'Tricked' Journalist".
  29. ^ "Iran sentences US reporter to 8 years in jail". The Times of India. April 18, 2009. Archived from the original on April 22, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  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 April 19, 2009 (with embedded videos of Saberi's mother and President Obama)
  32. ^ Thomas Erdbrink (April 21, 2009). "Iranian Nobel Winner to Defend U.S. Journalist", The Washington Post
  33. ^ "Letter by Roxana Saberi's Fiance, Bahman Ghobadi – Center for Human Rights in Iran".
  34. ^ "Saberi 'on hunger strike' in Iran". BBC. April 25, 2009. Retrieved April 25, 2009.
  35. ^ "Roxana Saberi interrupts hunger strike". May 6, 2009. Retrieved May 7, 2009.
  36. ^ "Iran: Possible prisoner of conscience: Roxana Saberi (f)". Amnesty International. March 16, 2009.
  37. ^ "Iran: Illegal Detention of Iranian-American Journalist". Human Rights Watch. March 13, 2009. Retrieved April 9, 2009.
  38. ^ "AAJA Calls for Release of Journalist Detained in Iran". March 4, 2009. Archived from the original on April 21, 2009.
  39. ^ "Saberi, Roxana". Committee to Protect Journalists. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
  40. ^ "UNITY Calls for Immediate Release of Journalist Roxana Saberi". UNITY website. Archived from the original on April 5, 2009. Retrieved April 9, 2009.
  41. ^ "Iran: Further Information on Prisoner of Conscience: Roxana Saberi (F)". Amnesty International. May 12, 2009. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  42. ^ "Los Angeles Times - California, national and world news".
  43. ^ "Reporter Saberi leaves Iran jail". May 11, 2009. Retrieved April 30, 2019 – via
  44. ^ a b Jailed US journalist Roxana Saberi 'had secret document on war in Iraq', The Times
  45. ^ May 12, 2009. "Journalist Copied Iranian Report on U.S. and Iraq", Washington Post
  46. ^ a b "Roxana Saberi: Caught 'Between Two Worlds'". Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  47. ^ "Read Excerpt: 'Between Two Worlds' by Roxana Saberi". ABC News. March 30, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2010.
  48. ^ "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran, Harper Collins". Archived from the original on March 28, 2013. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  49. ^ "Will Elections Loosen the Grip of Iran's Hard-liners?" The Washington Post, June 11, 2009
  50. ^ ""Journalist Roxana Saberi urges Iran to free aid worker, expresses worry about current unrest", Associated Press, June 24, 2009". Retrieved April 30, 2019.[permanent dead link]
  51. ^ The Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism Archived March 3, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Medill School Northwestern University
  52. ^ "A Roxana Saberi il premio Ilaria Alpi 2009 per la liberta".[permanent dead link]
  53. ^ NCAA Awards of Valor go to Phillips, Saberi, National Collegiate Athletic Association, November 11, 2009
  54. ^ "POMED's Annual Award Reception". Archived from the original on November 20, 2013. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  55. ^
  56. ^ "Roxana Saberi". Retrieved April 30, 2019.

External links