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Kelly Smith, Published May 12 2009

Journalist may return to US ‘in coming days’

After four months in an Iranian prison, Fargo native Roxana Saberi is coming home – to the relief of local and national supporters.

“Obviously, we continue to take issue with the charges against her and the verdicts rendered,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday at the U.S. Department of State daily press briefing. “But we are very heartened that she has been released, and wish her and her family all of the very best we can send their way.”

Clinton said Saberi was with her parents Monday and would be leaving Tehran for the U.S. “in the coming days.”

News traveled quickly Monday after the Iranian appeals court reduced the 32-year-old freelance journalist’s eight-year jail sentence to a two-year suspended term, allowing her to leave the country.

The good news prompted statements of gratitude from North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, North Dakota U.S. Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, North Dakota Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

While the rest of the world watches Saberi’s case come to a close, the trees along the quiet north Fargo neighborhood she grew up in are still adorned with yellow ribbons.

Standing not far from Reza and Akiko Saberi’s home, Pomeroy commended the couple and the community for keeping her story in the limelight.

“You know, we don’t know what makes Iran tick,” he said. “But we knew that they had our daughter in their prison and we were not going to let this matter go quietly. Well they certainly saw that Roxana Saberi was not going to be forgotten for one day.”

Saberi, a Fargo North High School and Concordia College graduate, has been in Iran for six years reporting for news organizations such as National Public Radio and the BBC.

In a Feb. 28 interview with The Forum, after releasing the news about their daughter to National Public Radio, the Saberis said their daughter was arrested for buying a bottle of wine in Iran.

But what began as a simple arrest that Pomeroy likened to jaywalking soon became more severe.

More than three months later, she was formally charged with espionage, and soon after she began a two-week hunger strike.

“I don’t think for a second that at the time of Roxana Saberi’s arrest, they had a major, international espionage trial on their minds,” Pomeroy said. “(But) the stakes kept building on the case.”

The Minnesota and North Dakota Congressional delegations communicated with State Department officials throughout Saberi’s imprisonment to urge her release.

That, along with Fargo-Moorhead’s efforts to honor Saberi, may have helped influence her return, Pomeroy said.

“To me, all that matters a lot,” he said. “This became a high profile deal; it had to be dealt with.”

Since Saberi was detained on Jan. 31, the State Department has worked through the Swiss embassy because the U.S. doesn’t have an embassy in Iran.

Swiss representatives visited Saberi on occasion in prison to check on her well-being, State Department Press Officer Fred Lash said Monday.

Now that she’s been released, U.S. officials hope the positive conclusion to her case will help diplomatic relations with Iran, Lash said. “It’s always a step in the right direction when something like this occurs.”

Inforum searchword: Roxana Saberi

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515