Monday, April 13, 2009


RSF: Roxana Saberi accused of spying, a charge often brought against independent journalists

10 April 2009Roxana Saberi accused of spying, a charge often brought against independent journalists

Reporters Without Borders is very worried by the charge of spying brought against American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi yesterday by deputy prosecutor Hassan Zare Dehnavi (better known as Hassan Haddad), who said that “Saberi has admitted the charges against her.”

“The Iranian authorities use and abuse this charge to arrest journalists and tighten the muzzle on free expression,” Reporters Without Borders said, reiterating its call for Saberi’s release.

Saberi’s arrest was revealed by National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States on 1 March as a result of a call it received from her father on 10 February. The day after the NPR report, the Iranian authorities confirmed she was being held in Tehran’s Evin prison. Foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said she had been working “illegally” in Iran. Judicial authority spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said on 3 March that she had been “arrested on the order of the Tehran revolutionary court and is now in detention in Evin prison.”

Born and brought up in the United States, Saberi has lived for the past six years in Iran, where worked as a stringer for NPR from 2002 to 2006. She also worked for the BBC and Fox News. Her father, Reza Saberi, told Reporters Without Borders that she had not worked for the media since 2006. She did not have access to news and information as she did not have press accreditation.

“Her writings were just personal notes and comments about cultural and literary subjects with a view to writing a book about Iran,” he said, adding that “she had been concentrating since 2006 on studying Farsi and Iranian culture at a Tehran university.”

Ayatollah Khamenei ordered a crackdown on independent newspapers and journalists in 2000 for “collaborating and for being the domestic centre of enemy activity.” Most of the journalists arrested and jailed in Iran are charged with spying. Among the journalists currently held on this charge are Adnan Hassanpour, Mohammad Hassin Falahieh Zadeh and Mohammad Sadegh Kabodvand.

Journalist arrested in the past on this charge include Siamak Pourzand (in 2000), Hossein Ghazian (in 2004), Parnaz Azima (in 2006), Mehrnoushe Solouki (in 2007) and Yosef Azizi Banitrof (in 2008). All were convicted on spying charges brought by Dehnavi and his boss, Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi. As a result of physical and psychological pressure, most of them confessed to the charges.

Dehnavi, who continues to call himself Hassan Haddad, was one of the torturers in Evin prison in the 1980s. While a judge at the Tehran revolutionary court’s 26th chamber from 2000 to 2005, he sentenced several journalists to long prison terms. He has been Mortazavi’s right-hand man since 2006. It was Mortazavi who was chiefly responsible for Canadian-Iranian press photographer Zahra Kazemi’s death in detention in July 2003.

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