Friday, February 22, 2013

Former Iranian political prisoner shares experience

By Jon Overton

The room is the width of an arm span. Thin carpet covers the concrete floor. There is no bed or pillow, just blankets. Nobody knows your location and captors deny requests to contact a lawyer and family members. Plus two weeks of solitary confinement. This was Roxana Saberi’s situation in 2009.

Saberi, an American journalist of Iranian descent who was imprisoned in Iran for 100 days, spoke at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Feb. 18 while promoting a book she wrote about her experience called, Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran.

Living in Iran for six years, Saberi worked for prominent international news organizations. Upon arriving in Iran, the government allowed relative freedom of the press, ending after hardliners gained power.

Saberi was researching a book about life inside Iran to provide a more nuanced view of the country that she said went beyond what media typically report.

“Iran has a lot of history, a lot of beautiful places to visit and a lot of beautiful people who treated me very well for the most part,” she said.

In January 2009, intelligence agents took Saberi from her home to prison, she said, for allegedly using the book she was researching as a cover to perform espionage for the Central Intelligence Agency.

After insisting she wasn’t a spy, Iranian authorities threatened Saberi with a 10 to 20 year prison sentence while offering to release her if she confessed. She falsely confessed and planned to recant her statements later. Her confession was recorded, she said, for propaganda purposes. After returning to her cell, authorities promised to release her soon.

“Instead of being happy about my potential freedom, I felt very ashamed at what I’d done,” she said. “I thought, one day my body’s going to be free, but my conscience is always going to remain behind bars.”

Authorities released Saberi from solitary confinement and she met other inmates, many of whom were political prisoners. The Iranian government pressured many of them to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, but several refused, she said, because of moral principles.

Ashamed and inspired by fellow inmates, Saberi recanted her confession in court, resulting in an eight year prison sentence. She learned to control her attitudes as many of her cellmates did, Saberi said, using adversity to better herself on a spiritual and mental level.

When Saberi’s parents learned of her situation, they told the media of her story. Numerous petitions and demonstrations demanded Saberi’s release and when she went on a two-week hunger strike, others across the world went on parallel hunger strikes. Due to mounting international pressure, the Iranian government released Saberi.

“I realized that I wasn’t alone anymore, that I didn’t have to stand up to my captors by myself anymore,” she said. “I felt empowered and I understood that when you don’t have a voice, you need other people to speak up for you, that when we do have a voice, we have a responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless.”

Click on this link to sign a petition calling for the release of journalists jailed in Iran.

No comments:

Post a Comment