Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Upate on Roxana Saberi

International Herald Tribune reports today that Swiss diplomats are pressing Iranian officials to let them visit American journalist Roxana Saberi who has been imprisoned in Iran without charge since January. Initially reports were that she was picked up for buying a bottle of wine, then it was reported that she was working as a reporter while her credentials had expired, then it was said that she was arrested at the order of the revolutionary court.

Roxana's father said Tuesday that she had been told by a prosecutor she may be imprisoned for months or even years despite previous reports that she would be released in a few days. When the Iranian New Year holiday commenced and Roxana was still imprisoned, her family realized it would be at least a couple more weeks until she was released as government offices all but shut down during the holiday. This new report is even more grim. Her father is terribly concerned about her mental state.

In early March, Hassan Haddad, Tehran's deputy prosecutor for security matters, said she would be freed "within a few days." But when the family's lawyer attempted to make a bail payment, he was told that officials"cannot free her now," her father said.

There is a pattern here that concerns her parents. What of Robert Levinson? The former FBI agent, and father of 7, disappeared in March 2007 while on a business trip to Iran. He was investigating a cigarette smuggling case for private clients. Because of poor diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran his case was not aggressively addressed.

The St. Petersburg Times reported in February of this year:

"Florida's Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Robert Wexler have also filed a joint resolution in Congress calling for Iran to cooperate and provide information about the former agent. The resolution would require that the Obama administration raise Levinson's case "at every opportunity" in talks about Iran.

Nelson says he believes Levinson is being held by the Iranian government in a secret prison, and urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at her confirmation hearing last month to take up the case."

Unless I missed it, Obama missed a chance to bring it up in his Happy New Year message he sent to Iran.

The St. Petersburg Times continues:

"I feel it's very important that nobody forget about Bob," [Mrs. Levinson] said in a phone interview. "Politics is not my game. But I believe that the Iranians have the ability to find Bob and bring him home to me."

Another factor that is surely on the minds of the Saberis would certainly be the fate of Iranian blogger Omid-Reza Mirsayafi who died last week in the same prison that holds Roxana Saberi. He was arrested when he found out that he had been summoned to court; when he realized "that he may end up with a prison sentnece, he wrote an email to friends. He said he felt powerless to withstand what torture he would face in prison."

Bret Stephens of WSJ writes that "Mirsayafi's forebodings proved well-justified. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that he was taken to the prison hospital shortly before his death with an irregular pulse. "The doctor told [the prison authorities] how to treat him, asked him to send him to a city hospital," Mirsayafi's lawyer told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "But they ignored the doctor and said [Mirsayafi] was faking his illness. The doctor said, 'his heartbeat is 40 per minute, you can't fake that.' But they sent the doctor out of the room." Prison authorities ruled the death a suicide; Mirsayafi was only 25."

Both Saberi and Levinson are Americans. Mirsayafi was Iranian. It doesn't seem to matter to the Iranians what nationality you are; in fact, Saberi holds dual citizenship.

After my last post on Saberi, I received stunning comments via email and on Free Republic that "she got what she deserved" by going to Iran; that she "knew what she was getting into and was only there to sympathize in the first place" and that she willingly violated the laws of the country by buying alcohol. The fact is, she likely was not arrested because she bought alcohol. And what did Levinson do? And why are we so into blaming the victim?

Both Saberi and Levinson are American citizens and before Obama extends the olive branch and praises Iran for their sweetness and light, for their contributions in making the "world a more beautiful place" he might do well to address gaining the release of these American citizens.

Again, here is the place to keep up with breaking developments on Roxana. Here is the Facebook page. And here is the Twitter feed.

Here is a help page for Bob Levinson.

As Americans we need to be concerned about these cases; we need to do whatever we can to secure their release and support their families. Report these on your blogs, write letters, contact Congress, the White House, and don't forget them.

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