I’ve been following the story of Roxana Saberi’s Iranian trial and conviction, mainly through the thorough coverage in the Los Angeles Times (which you can find here and here) and the story is a chilling one. If you’re unfamiliar with Saberi’s case, here are the basics: she is a 31-year-old American reporter who was previously employed by NPR and the BBC before being accused of espionage in January. Her trial lasted exactly one day and the verdict was rendered immediately. I have to believe that President Obama was deliberately understating things when he said that he was “disappointed” by the trial’s outcome.
What was the evidence against Saberi? Nobody knows, as the trial was conducted entirely in secret. Apparently Saberi confessed, but said her confession was extracted under duress and due to false promises of release. If Saberi’s confession is indeed valid, why not make public any details of the case that could confirm her confession? Keeping everything under wraps in the way that Iran’s judicial system has can only bolster Saberi’s claim that this is a sham. The whole situation has been cast by several analysts as an Iranian attempt to possess a bargaining chip in their relationship with America.
Saberi, whose father was born in Iran, has been living in Tehran since 2003 and stayed there to continue reporting on affairs in the country even after the government revoked her press credentials in 2006. Yesterday, a day after the conviction, Iranian President Ahmadinejad sent a letter to prosecutors requesting the following: “Please, personally observe the process to ensure that the defendants are allowed all legal rights and freedom in defending themselves and that their rights are not violated even by one iota.” He then spent the rest of the day and speaking at a highly publicized UN forum on racism, in which his controversial statements got much airplay and hence more attention was paid to what else he had done that day, namely issuing this letter in the name of “legal rights and freedom.” Master manipulation. You can almost hear Ahmadinejad saying “eeeexcellent” in the sinister manner of Mr. Burns on The Simpsons.
The legal rights that Ahmadinejad mentions in his letter — could they perhaps include an open trial, or even pretending to deliberate on the evidence? I suppose that he could be trying to set himself up as some arbiter of fairness so that if/when Saberi is released, he can point to his letter as the handiwork that ensured her freedom. Forgive me for believing that such manipulations and diplomatic bargaining tactics should have no place in determining a woman’s innocence or guilt, and should never influence the decision to grant or deny her freedom.
To any readers who wish to read more about this, I recommend following the Los Angeles Times‘ coverage including this interview with Saberi’s father, which includes details such as Saberi’s attempted hunger strike and the fact that she was originally detained for buying a bottle of wine. The newspaper’s site also has an excellent blog on all things Middle Eastern called Babylon and Beyond.