Roxana Saberi grew up in Fargo. She's a former Miss North Dakota and, in many ways, an All American Girl. Her dad is from Iran, so she has dual citizenship and was able to travel to that country freely. It was a perfect opportunity for a Western journalist to report from Tehran as an Iranian citizen, and she did so for six years, working for NPR, BBC, and FOX, among others.
In January she was arrested. Iranian officials have accused her of working without credentials, of buying wine (which is illegal there), and, most alarmingly, of espionage.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials have said the charges are completely baseless. One expert I spoke to told me that her attorney wasn't given any access to the information in the case against her until about two days before her trial.
She was convicted last week behind closed doors. Within days, she was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
The case is baffling, to say the least. It is also gravely serious.
Saberi is being held in Evin Prison, known as the place where foreign and Iranian political prisoners are sent.
In 2003, a Canadian journalist named Zahra Kazemi was arrested for taking photos by Evin. She was sentenced to jail there and died in prison, reportedly after being raped and tortured.
More recently, Omid Mirsayafi, an Iranian blogger who insulted the clerics of Iran, died at Evin. Prison officials claimed he committed suicide, but family members say he was denied medical treatment.
In 2007, I interviewed Roozbeh Mirebrahimi (see video below), an Iranian blogger who was arrested and charged with similar crimes for writing critically about the government in his country.
His blog, An Iranian's Opinions, is still operational although he now writes from New York. He told me he is afraid to return to his country for fear he would be re-arrested…or worse. Here's a link to the video and his detailed account of the problems facing journalists in Iran.
For more information on the problems journalists face in Iran, visit the Committee to Protect Journalists.