US journalist Roxana Saberi turns 32 today in an Iranian prison. After an hour-long trial, she was sentenced to eight years behind bars for “espionage.” She was initially told she was arrested for buying bootleg wine, and then because she was working as a journalist without a license. She’s now on day five of a hunger strike. Today, one of her defense lawyers was denied access to her.
Saberi is a former North Dakota beauty queen educated at Oxford and Northwestern with an extraordinary background. Here’s some of her work. Her home state newspaper, the Grand Forks Herald, weighs in:
Iran’s imprisonment of Roxana Saberi is an international outrage, a flagrant violation of the norms of civilized conduct. But it should come as no surprise.
The Iranian government has shown its disregard for those norms before. This latest example should give great pause to the Obama administration, which came in to office plainly willing to give Iran the benefit of the doubt — and now has seen Iran repudiate that gesture as it has so many before, with cynicism and contempt.
Saberi, imprisoned since January, has been convicted of spying, news stories reported Saturday. Now, whenever these kinds of accusations surface, there’s always a chance that the accused is guilty and was caught in the act.
But in this case, that chance seems vanishingly small. There are ways to credibly accuse and convict someone of espionage, but the Iranian court system has not employed them. Just the opposite: It has mocked those norms by disregarding their substance, while using the norms’ vocabulary — “trial,” “attorney,” “defense” and so on — to give the government’s actions a patina of justice.
Here is all one needs to know about justice as it seems to be practiced in modern Iran. The quote is from a story in Sunday’s New York Times:
“Ms. Saberi’s father, Reza Saberi, who came to Tehran two weeks ago from Fargo, N.D., to secure her release, said Sunday that neither she nor her lawyer was aware that the trial was taking place last Monday until after it was under way.
“‘The lawyer was only told to go meet Roxana last Monday,’ he said in a telephone interview. ‘No one knew that they were trying her. Roxana found out 15 minutes into the session that she was being tried.
“‘None of them, neither Roxana nor the lawyer, were ready to defend her.’
“Mr. Saberi said that the trial took less than an hour as he waited outside the courtroom, believing that the lawyer was only meeting his daughter in the presence of the judge.”
So: Saberi didn’t know she was on trial until after the trial started. She met her defense lawyer the very day of her “trial.” Neither Saberi nor her lawyer had any time whatsoever to prepare her defense.
And the proceedings took less than an hour.
No conviction by such a kangaroo court can be believed.
She is not alone:
A young blogger arrested in Iran for allegedly insulting supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an Internet posting has died in prison, his attorney said Friday. The blogger had been jailed for allegedly insulting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an internet posting.
The blogger had been jailed for allegedly insulting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an internet posting.
Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said Omid Mir Sayafi, reported to be in his 20s, died in Evin prison, which is located in Tehran and known for its wing that holds political prisoners.
Dadkhah said a fellow inmate, Dr. Hessam Firouzi, called him Wednesday night with the news — and said he believed Sayafi would have lived if he received proper medical care.
Dadkhah said Firouzi, an imprisoned human-rights activist, said that he carried a semi-conscious Sayafi to a prison doctor but that he didn’t receive the care he needed…Sayafi was first arrested in April, then released for 41 days before being arrested again. He was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for comments on a blog that his lawyer argued was intended only for a few friends to read.
Seven other journalists and two cyber-dissidents are currently held in Iran.
They include Mohammad Sadegh Kabodvand, who has been in prison since July 2007. On Oct. 23 a Tehran appeal court upheld his 11-year jail sentence for creating a human rights organization in Kurdistan.
Kabodvand was the winner of the U.K. Press Gazette’s British Press Awards in the “International journalist of the year” category, announced on March 31. The judges cited his work on behalf of human rights.
Mohammad Hassin Falahieh Zadeh, a journalist who worked for the Arabic-language service of state-owned TV station Al-Alam was arrested in November 2006 on a spying charge and was sentenced on April 29, 2007 to three years in prison and a fine equivalent to twice all that he ever earned as a journalist. He has been held in solitary confinement.
Kurdish journalist and teacher Massoud Kurdpoor was sentenced to a year in prison on Oct. 15, 2008 on a charge of “anti-government propaganda in interviews for foreign and enemy news media.”
Online journalist and cleric Mojtaba Lotfi was arrested on Oct. 8, 2008 in Qom for posting online a sermon by Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a well-known opponent of Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The sermon criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying Iran was “the world’s freest country.” A special court for the clergy sentenced him on Nov. 29 to four years in prison and five years of banishment from the city.
Kaveh Javanmard of the weekly Karfto was transferred to Sanandaj prison at the end of last month after being held for two years in the northern city of Maragheh, far from where his family lives.
Bahman Totonchi, a former Karfto contributor, has been held since Nov. 18, 2008 in Sanandaj prison, where he still has not been formally charged.
Reporters Without Borders is still without any news of blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who has been held in an unknown location since Nov 1, 2008.
If you’ve got a blog, please let your readers know what’s happening today on Roxana Saberi’s birthday. The Free Roxana website is here.
This is definitely a moment for bloggers from all sides of the political spectrum to rally. Here’s a blog rally in support of Saberi and others who have dared to express their thoughts freely only to be imprisoned, abused, or killed.