Iran's answer to journalism: Jail the journalist

Friday, April 17, 2009 | 8:28 a.m. CDT; updated 2:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dear Reader,

Roxana Saberi of Fargo, N.D., sits in Evin Prison in Iran today.


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She was convicted Wednesday -- the news was made public today -- and sentenced to eight years in prison. The public wasn’t allowed to see the charges or witness the trial.

She was found guilty of spying for your government.

She is a journalist.

You should be concerned.

The threat to reporters everywhere is implicit yet obvious – you too can go to jail if you report things we don’t like. The free-press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says the case "is the latest example of how the Iranian authorities arbitrarily use spying charges to arrest journalists and tighten the gag on free expression."

Saberi is the product of Midwest upbringing and international parents. She won Miss North Dakota in 1997, according to, a site maintained by faculty, students and alumni of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She earned one master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern, and another in international relations from the University of Cambridge.

Her father is Iranian, and she holds dual citizenship. She had been in Iran for six years as a freelance correspondent, working for news organizations as varied as Fox News and National Public Radio, according to the BBC, another client of Saberi's.

Here’s the problem: You and I can’t find out anything more about the Iranian government’s charges against the journalist. We can’t know what was said at the trial. We don't even know exactly what was said in convicting the 31-year-old journalist.

Even her lawyer wasn't allowed to witness the one-day trial on Monday, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The Committee to Protect Journalists gathered more than 10,000 signatures more than a month ago – when, according to her father, she was arrested for buying wine, which isn’t allowed in the country.

Good deeds are not done in the dark.

Any government that holds secret trials must be afraid of the public. That government must be afraid of the truth.

You don’t need to look so far as Iran to find guardians of state secrets. This country is littered with examples. Iran’s actions simply make it easy to see the fallacy of secrecy because it is so extreme.

Journalists are threatened every day across the world. North Korea is moving forward with prosecuting two American journalists. There’s a worse scenario: The Committee to Protect Journalists says 11 have been killed this year so far. One, Omidreza Mirsayaf, died in the same prison that holds Saberi.

With each threat, with each arrest, with each murder another light goes out.

"Through her work for NPR over several years, we know her as an established and respected professional journalist," Vivian Schiller, President and CEO of NPR, said today. "We appeal to all of those who share our concerns to ask that the Iranian authorities show compassion and allow her to return home to the United States immediately with her parents."

Should you be worried? Only if you consider yourself a member of this community we call the world.



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Tom Warhover April 18, 2009 | 8:56 a.m.

News this morning: Roxana Saberi was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. I'll update this column in a bit.

(Report Comment)
Tom Warhover April 18, 2009 | 9:58 a.m.

I've revised the column now. It's updated with the news of Saberi's sentence.

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