American journalist Roxana Saberi spoke at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota tonight about her experiences as a political prisoner in Iran. In January 2009, Saberi was charged with espionage by the Iranian government and spent 100 days in jail. Her book, “Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran” is just out, and she is on a worldwide tour speaking out about international human rights.
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Saberi was working in Iran as a freelance reporter and researching a book about Iranian culture when she was arrested at her home on spying charges. After being coerced into confessing, she was sentenced to eight years in prison. With the help of her parents and the media, Saberi was able to get her story out of Iranian prison borders and was finally released in May 2009.
While Saberi recognizes that her public presence as a journalist contributed to her release, she says that the majority of detainees are not always so lucky. Political prisoners in Iran can go months without anyone finding out about their arrest because, she says, “if you are a threat to national security, you lose your human rights.” That means no phone call, no rights to a lawyer.
Iran’s human rights record has taken a beating in recent months. In June, protests erupted across Tehran on the anniversary of last year’s disputed presidential election, resulting in police clashes across the city. And all eyes have been on the three American hikers detained in Iran after accidentally wandering from Iraq into Iranian territory last year. Sarah Shourd, the only female of the trio, was released last week after Iran faced intense scrutiny from the international community.
Saberi, who says that she has tried to turn her “challenges into opportunities,” hopes that Minnesotans will continue to fight for human rights at home and abroad. While she is unsure about her future as a journalist, she is extremely passionate about raising awareness.
“If we don’t speak out about [human rights],” she said, “violators will think they can continue getting away with it.”