Editorial, Star Tribune
April 6, 2009

A Committee to Protect Journalists spokesman accurately sums up the plight of Roxana Saberi, a graduate student and freelance reporter from North Dakota currently jailed in Iran. "The little bits and pieces we do know are all alarming,'' said Mohamed Abdel Dayem.

Two-and-a-half months since Iranian officials arrested Saberi -- allegedly for reporting after her press credentials were revoked -- it's still not clear what the charges are against her or when she'll be released. Earlier this month, an Iranian official had told a French news service that Saberi would be allowed to leave within a few days. But Saberi, 31, a former Miss North Dakota who also holds Iranian citizenship, is still detained inside the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. And while Iranian officials say that they've issued a formal indictment against her, neither she, her family nor her lawyer have seen the charges. More disturbingly, it appears that the fate of Saberi -- who has reported for the British Broadcasting Corporation and National Public Radio -- is in the hands of Iran's Revolutionary Court. This is essentially a military tribunal that sometimes hears cases in secret or compels those charged to appear without an attorney. Its rulings are final; there are no appeals.

"She's still in trouble, we're still worried about her well-being. Nothing's changed. The only thing different is that she's been in there that much longer, which is doubly alarming,'' said Dayem, the Middle East and North Africa coordinator for the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Saberi does have a lawyer. And on Monday her parents, Reza and Akiko, who had traveled to Iran from their flood-stricken hometown, were allowed to meet with her. According to news services, they told the family's lawyer that she is in good health and good spirits. Still, Evin Prison is a dangerous place. A Canadian-Iranian photojournalist held there in 2003 died from a brain hemorrhage after a blow to the head. CPJ's Dayem said Monday that a blogger held in the prison also died recently under mysterious circumstances.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has pressed for Saberi's release; so have North Dakota Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, as well as Minnesota's Sen. Amy Klobuchar. But the public's help is still urgently needed in the form of letters, e-mails and phone calls to the Iranian Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Iranian officials need to know that Saberi is not forgotten and that her release would be a timely humanitarian gesture for a regime in short supply of a valuable commodity: international goodwill.