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Associated Press , Published May 29 2009

Saberi: I falsely confessed to spying

WASHINGTON – Journalist Roxana Saberi, who spent four months in an Iranian prison on espionage charges, said in her first in-depth interview that she initially confessed to being a spy but later recanted.

In remarks to National Public Radio News, Saberi, who grew up in Fargo, said her confession was forced and that she believes her decision to recant prompted the Iranian prosecutor to send her case to trial instead of allowing her to go free.

“My confession was false, and I thought I had to fabricate it to save myself,” she said.

The Iranian government arrested her in Tehran on Jan. 31 and charged her with spying for the United States. In mid-April, Iran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Saberi to eight years in prison, but an appeals court reduced that to a two-year suspended sentence on May 11. She left Iran four days later.

On Wednesday, she met at the State Department with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had said repeatedly during Saberi’s confinement that the spying charges against her were baseless.

In her interview recorded Wednesday with NPR, the transcript of which was released Thursday, Saberi said she was not physically harmed but faced intense psychological pressure that prompted her to admit to spying.

“As has been seen in the past, one of the ways that people get out of these kinds of situations is to make a confession, and even be videotaped making this confession, even if this confession is false,” she said. “And so, under pressure, I did the same thing. After I realized that nobody knew where I was, I was very afraid, and my interrogators threatened me and said, ‘If you don’t confess to being a U.S. spy, you could be here for many years – 10 years or 20 years, or you could even face execution.’ ”

She said she later decided the confession was a mistake.

“I recanted my confession, knowing full well that I would jeopardize my freedom,” she said. “And indeed, that’s what happened: The prosecutor got upset with me for recanting my confession and sent my case to trial instead of freeing me, and that’s when I was sentenced to eight years in prison. I knew this was going to happen when I recanted my confession, but I told myself I would rather tell the truth and stay in prison instead of telling lies to be free.”

Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and has dual citizenship.

Asked whether she hoped to return one day to Iran, her father’s native land, she replied, “Most of the people there were so hospitable to me – so kind and so generous. And definitely, I hope to go back someday.”