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May 11, 2009
Iran releases imprisoned American journalist

American journalist Roxana Saberi was released from an Iranian prison on Monday.

In Iran, an American journalist sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the United States was released on Monday.

Roxana Saberi, who reported for National Public Radio and other news organizations, was freed after an appeals court rejected the original sentence and issued a two-year suspended sentence.

She was held for a total of four months, and her release removes an obstacle in President Obama’s efforts to open a dialogue with Iran.

Journalist “Liana” sympathizes with her counterparts in Iran: 

I woke up to the great news this morning that Roxana Saberi, the American journalist who had been convicted of espionage and sentenced to 8 years in prison in Tehran, Iran has now been freed and reunited with her parents. She had been arrested in late January, followed by a one-day secretive trial.

My heart sinks every time I hear of a journalist being equated with  a criminal or being accused of criminal activity. This case was especially close to home because my family is from Iran. I always remember the fact about how my life would have turned out if we had never left. How differently would I have turned out? Would my passions, goals and dreams have been the same? Would I have even considered becoming a journalist, knowing that because of what I said or did, I could be arrested and put in jail with an 8 year prison sentence? In my heart of hearts, I have to believe that my passions in life would not only have stayed the same, but would have been stronger.

David Andelman of World Policy writes about the political undertones of Saberi’s release: 

The alacrity with which the “appeals court” on Sunday reversed the decision of the Revolutionary Court, reducing the charge from conveying classified information to the less onerous “crime” of possessing it, then reducing her sentence to two years (suspended) and freeing her immediately, suggests the degree to which the judicial system can be manipulated in the interest of political or diplomatic expediency.

Several issues, however, remain cloaked in mystery. Why and how did the charges against her escalate so quickly and dramatically?  What message was the Revolutionary Court trying to send—internally or externally?

Iran is in the midst of what could prove to be quite a fraught, and critical, national election campaign in which the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is fighting for his political life. Is this a message from extreme Islamists in control of the Revolutionary Court system to the moderates of what might be in store should their candidate be elected? Or is it simply a question of one hand not really knowing what the other is doing—and, in the end, reason returning to the political leadership that is indeed anxious to resume a constructive dialogue with the West, especially the United States?

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic’s “Washington” blog explores possible meanings behind the release: 

Iran watchers will be making one of two cases today: that the freeing suggests nothing at all about Iran’s intentions toward the West; Iran’s government wants to demonstrate to Europe (in particular) that it is capable of acting in good faith.  The other is that Iranian-United States relations have come a long way since 1/20, and even in the wake of saber rattling, the presidency of Barack Obama has so flummoxed the Iranian leadership that they have no choice to vary their routine.  I don’t know which interpretation is correct, I would add, as a point of information, that Iran’s government is not monolithic; that the bureaucracy and many judges consider themselves independent of the executive branch and the mullahs.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user El_Enigma under a Creative Commons license.

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[…] journalist Roxana Saberi is heading home after she was released from an Iranian prison earlier this week. She had been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying, but was […]

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