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US journalist Roxana Saberi turns 32 today in an Iranian prison. After an hour-long trial, she was sentenced to eight years behind bars for “espionage.” She was initially told she was arrested for buying bootleg wine, and then because she was working as a journalist without a license. She’s now on day five of a hunger strike. Today, one of her defense lawyers was denied access to her.
She is an Oxford educated former beauty queen. Her home town paper, the Grand Forks Herald, has this to say:
Iran’s imprisonment of Roxana Saberi is an international outrage, a flagrant violation of the norms of civilized conduct. But it should come as no surprise.
The Iranian government has shown its disregard for those norms before. This latest example should give great pause to the Obama administration, which came in to office plainly willing to give Iran the benefit of the doubt — and now has seen Iran repudiate that gesture as it has so many before, with cynicism and contempt.
Saberi, imprisoned since January, has been convicted of spying, news stories reported Saturday. Now, whenever these kinds of accusations surface, there’s always a chance that the accused is guilty and was caught in the act.
But in this case, that chance seems vanishingly small. There are ways to credibly accuse and convict someone of espionage, but the Iranian court system has not employed them. Just the opposite: It has mocked those norms by disregarding their substance, while using the norms’ vocabulary — “trial,” “attorney,” “defense” and so on — to give the government’s actions a patina of justice.
Here is all one needs to know about justice as it seems to be practiced in modern Iran. The quote is from a story in Sunday’s New York Times:
“Ms. Saberi’s father, Reza Saberi, who came to Tehran two weeks ago from Fargo, N.D., to secure her release, said Sunday that neither she nor her lawyer was aware that the trial was taking place last Monday until after it was under way.
“‘The lawyer was only told to go meet Roxana last Monday,’ he said in a telephone interview. ‘No one knew that they were trying her. Roxana found out 15 minutes into the session that she was being tried.
“‘None of them, neither Roxana nor the lawyer, were ready to defend her.’
“Mr. Saberi said that the trial took less than an hour as he waited outside the courtroom, believing that the lawyer was only meeting his daughter in the presence of the judge.”
So: Saberi didn’t know she was on trial until after the trial started. She met her defense lawyer the very day of her “trial.” Neither Saberi nor her lawyer had any time whatsoever to prepare her defense.
And the proceedings took less than an hour.
No conviction by such a kangaroo court can be believed. Just the opposite: By behaving toward Saberi in such an absurdly lawless fashion, Iran has made it even more likely that Saberi is entirely innocent. The harsh judgments rendered by North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad, who called Saberi’s eight-year prison sentence “preposterous,” and Byron Dorgan, who spoke of “a shocking miscarriage of justice,” seem fully justified.
But again, the Iranian government’s conduct should come as no surprise. The government came into power alongside an act of even graver disregard of international norms: the capture of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. The government then kept the embassy workers hostage for more than a year.
To this day, the Iranian government not only has refused to apologize for the incident, but has gone on to repeatedly show its contempt for world norms.
Political regimes are like racehorses, in that their performances yesterday and today are pretty good indicators of their performance tomorrow. At this point, the Iranian government’s conduct suggests that trust isn’t something that America should hurry to extend. It’s something Iran must earn.
This is not the only case:
(CNN) — A young blogger arrested in Iran for allegedly insulting supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an Internet posting has died in prison, his attorney said Friday.
The blogger had been jailed for allegedly insulting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an internet posting.
Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said Omid Mir Sayafi, reported to be in his 20s, died in Evin prison, which is located in Tehran and known for its wing that holds political prisoners.
Dadkhah said a fellow inmate, Dr. Hessam Firouzi, called him Wednesday night with the news — and said he believed Sayafi would have lived if he received proper medical care.
Dadkhah said Firouzi, an imprisoned human-rights activist, said that he carried a semi-conscious Sayafi to a prison doctor but that he didn’t receive the care he needed.
“It was Dr. Firouzi’s opinion that if he would’ve received proper medical attention, he would not have died,” Dadkhah said.
He said Sayafi was buried on Thursday and that his calls to the prison asking for an explanation have not been returned.
Dadkhah said Sayafi “sounded OK” at about 2 p.m. on Wednesday when he last spoke to him by telephone. He said the blogger asked for a book about Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which begins Friday.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, which advocates for activists in the country, quoted Firouzi on its Web site as saying Sayafi suffered from depression and had taken extra doses of medication on Wednesday.
The group blamed Iran’s government for unsafe conditions in its prisons.
“Iranian leaders have relegated the administration of the prison system to a group of incompetent and cruel officials who are showing their utter disregard for human life,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesman for the campaign. “If the authorities do not move quickly to hold negligent officials responsible, they are reinforcing impunity and the lack of accountability.”
Sayafi was first arrested in April, then released for 41 days before being arrested again. He was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for comments on a blog that his lawyer argued was intended only for a few friends to read.
Here is growing concern over the detention of journalists and cyber-dissidents being held in Iran and the arbitrary nature of their detention.
Among them is an American of Iranian extraction, Roxana Saberi, who has been imprisoned since January in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
She was finally allowed to see her parents who arrived in Iran from the United States on the eve of the prison visit. The authorities still have not announced what Saberi is charged with but her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, said on April 5 that a revolutionary court judge had been asked to decide whether the case was ready to go to trial or whether further investigation was needed.
Some reports said she was arrested after purchasing a bottle of wine, although more likely than not, the authorities are trying to silence her from doing her job as a reporter.
The Paris-based watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders said that journalists being detained in Iran are being kept in harsh conditions.
“Some are not getting the medical treatment they need. Journalist and blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi’s recent death in detention reinforces our growing concern about the conditions in which they are being held,” said the group.
Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the conditions in which journalists and cyber-dissidents are being held in Iran and the arbitrary nature of their detention, and calls for their release.
The news of Saberi’s detention was broken by the U.S. public radio station NPR on March 1 after it got a call from her father on Feb. 10. The Iranian authorities confirmed on March 2 that she was being held in Evin prison, but they have never specified the charges against her.
Seven other journalists and two cyber-dissidents are currently held in Iran.
They include Mohammad Sadegh Kabodvand, who has been in prison since July 2007. On Oct. 23 a Tehran appeal court upheld his 11-year jail sentence for creating a human rights organization in Kurdistan.
Kabodvand was the winner of the U.K. Press Gazette’s British Press Awards in the “International journalist of the year” category, announced on March 31. The judges cited his work on behalf of human rights.
Mohammad Hassin Falahieh Zadeh, a journalist who worked for the Arabic-language service of state-owned TV station Al-Alam was arrested in November 2006 on a spying charge and was sentenced on April 29, 2007 to three years in prison and a fine equivalent to twice all that he ever earned as a journalist. He has been held in solitary confinement.
Kurdish journalist and teacher Massoud Kurdpoor was sentenced to a year in prison on Oct. 15, 2008 on a charge of “anti-government propaganda in interviews for foreign and enemy news media.”
Online journalist and cleric Mojtaba Lotfi was arrested on Oct. 8, 2008 in Qom for posting online a sermon by Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a well-known opponent of Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The sermon criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying Iran was “the world’s freest country.” A special court for the clergy sentenced him on Nov. 29 to four years in prison and five years of banishment from the city.
Kaveh Javanmard of the weekly Karfto was transferred to Sanandaj prison at the end of last month after being held for two years in the northern city of Maragheh, far from where his family lives.
Bahman Totonchi, a former Karfto contributor, has been held since Nov. 18, 2008 in Sanandaj prison, where he still has not been formally charged.
Reporters Without Borders is still without any news of blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who has been held in an unknown location since Nov 1, 2008.
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