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Kelly Smith, Published March 11 2009

Parents hear from daughter in Iran

The father of Fargo journalist Roxana Saberi finally got to hear his daughter’s voice.

The much-awaited call from a tearful Roxana came at 1:30 a.m. Monday. But it was “very short,” lasting barely two minutes, Reza Saberi said Tuesday.

“She just said she loves us,” he said from his north Fargo home. “But she said, psychologically, it’s really hard to be in prison. It sounds like she’s under great pressure.”

The family hadn’t heard her voice since a Feb. 10 call she made to briefly tell them of her arrest in Iran. Saberi didn’t have much time in her second phone call to give her parents details, but did tell them she was unharmed.

The freelance journalist has been held in an Iranian prison for more than five weeks. Iranian officials said last week that Saberi was working illegally after her press pass was revoked in 2006. She was working on a book about Iran at the time of her arrest.

The family’s lawyer met with Saberi for a second time this week on Monday, giving her the books from her apartment that she had requested on Sunday. But unlike Sunday’s visit where he met her at a courthouse, the lawyer met Saberi at the prison in north Tehran.

Questions still linger for both the family and their attorney about if and when Saberi will be released or given a trial.

“They haven’t made it certain,” Reza Saberi said Tuesday. “That’s what he (the lawyer) has to find out.”

There were reports late last week from news organizations that Saberi would be released soon.

“That news that Roxana would be free in a few days was last week,” Reza Saberi said. “A few days have passed and we haven’t heard anything.”

More worldwide support came Tuesday for his daughter.

Major news organizations – including her former employers – voiced their support for Saberi in a joint statement, urging the Iranian government to release more information about the freelance journalist’s arrest.

Chief executive officers and leaders of NPR, ABC, BBC, Fox, the Wall Street Journal, PBS and Feature Story News signed the statement.

“We now ask that one or more international organizations that have responsibilities and rights under the Geneva Conventions be permitted access to Roxana immediately to ascertain her health and well-being and to determine the conditions under which she is held,” according to the joint-statement, which also requested that specific charges against Saberi be made public.

Saberi, who graduated from Fargo North High School and Concordia College, contributed extensively to NPR, the BBC and Feature Story News.

“We’re deeply concerned about the circumstances about Roxana’s detention,” Brian Duffy, managing editor of NPR News, said in statement. “She was a very good journalist. She provided valuable and accurate reports from a very important and interesting part of the world. She’s someone we feel responsible towards. To remain silent would be totally inappropriate.”

NPR learned about Saberi’s detainment on Feb. 26, and in the past two weeks did two stories on her detainment, according to their Web site.

“Our primary concern is for her safety and security,” Duffy said. “And we didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.”

There was also an overwhelming support from an online petition.

On Monday, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists delivered its petition to Iranian U.N. officials that generated more than 10,000 signatures – far outdoing the 1,000 the group initially predicted when it started circulating the petition last week on Facebook.

The petition called for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to intervene in Saberi’s case.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515