Roxana Dreamed of Becoming a Journalist Who Helps America
She was a lot like me...but much more courageous.
We dreamed of being journalists, and the hard work and hard lifestyle it takes to be successful didn’t stop us.
We both started out as one-man bands which is TV news lingo for a reporter who has to shoot all her own footage—a reporter and photographer in one.
She was a one-man band in the large market of Houston, Texas. By then, I had experienced photographers, editors and engineers. They were needed to keep up with the fast competitive pace of Houston news.
Most TV reporters dream of making it to network news in New York City, but Roxana Saberi had a bigger dream than most journalists…much bigger.
Roxana dreamed of making a difference by reporting from a dangerous part of the world that most Americans don’t understand and don’t trust. Roxana grew up in Fargo, North Dakota with a mom from Japan and a dad from Iran. Her dad grew up in North Dakota but his birth in Iran gave Roxana dual American-Iranian citizenship.
At the tender age of 25, Roxana moved to Iran. The former Miss North Dakota and top ten finalist in Miss America started wearing traditional Muslim dress so she could live in Iran and work as a freelance journalist for NPR, the BBC, and other prestigious news organizations. She started working on a Masters degree in Iranian studies and writing a book to explain the culture and people.
Now, six years later this beautiful, smart, hard working American journalist is locked up in Iran’s notorious Evin prison convicted of espionage. (Roxana's Dad Pictured Left Is In Iran Hiring Attorneys to Fight for His Daughter's Release)
Once again Iranian officials have proven why they cannot be trusted or underestimated.
Iranian Officials Arrested Roxana and Charged Her With Spying
On January 31st, Iranian officials arrested Roxana and put her in prison. Roxana told her parents she was arrested for buying a bottle of wine. Buying alcohol is illegal in Iran. Iran’s foreign-ministry spokesperson said Roxana was being jailed for reporting without valid press credentials. Iranian officials had taken away Roxana’s press credentials but then allowed her to keep reporting for some time.
Iranian officials hinted for months Roxana would be released and then all of sudden Iran’s judiciary said Roxana was being investigated for passing information to American intelligence members. Then they claimed she confessed to this ridiculous allegation. Roxana told her dad they threatened to kill her if she didn’t admit to spying. Roxana was charged with espionage, convicted in secret, and sentenced to 8 years in prison. The verdict was "beyond belief."
Looking duplicitous as usual, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday sent a letter to the judiciary calling for a fair appeal for Roxana.
Many experts believe Iranian officials are playing a sick game of political chess with Roxana’s life. They think Iran has trumped up these charges against Roxana in order to get the United States to free five Revolutionary Guard members Americans found training insurgents in Iraq.
President Obama Should Secure Roxana’s Release
The White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both said they are deeply disappointed by Iran’s actions. I hope that behind those politically safe statements, the White House is putting the fear back in Iran.
I am outraged as an American and as a journalist.
Iran has had no fear of any repercussions from the United States for some time. They are moving forward with an aggressive nuclear program. Remember, President Ahmadinejad said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. We should all worry when a nation is building nuclear capability and has no fear.
Now a young journalist is locked up in an Iranian prison for using her pen to help Americans and the world at a critical time when we all need as much understanding of the Iranian people as we can get.
My longtime friend Ray Magnant was Creative Services Director at News 34 Houston where Roxana worked. He says she earned the respect of all who knew her.
“She was smart and very driven. She was one of the best reporters we had. You knew she wouldn’t stay in Houston that long because she was so smart. We knew she was destined for bigger stories.” Magnant said.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, George Stephanopoulos asked Ahmadinejad if he would release Roxana as a good will gesture. I suggest you take a deep breath so you don’t blow a gasket or vomit when you read his response.
"I think Mr. Obama, as a sign of change and also to encourage friendship, should allow laws to be processed fairly and allow the judiciary to carry out its duties," Ahmadinejad said.
How dare he say President Obama, the leader of the free world, should just sit by while Iran trumps up charges and convicts an American journalist of espionage. President Kennedy once reminded Americans that the only job protected by the constitution is that of journalists. Journalists are crucial to justice. Nothing sanitizes like a pen writing the truth.
As for the White House, I can only hope they are using Big Stick Diplomacy which calls for speaking softly in public as to not worsen the situation while carrying a big stick and threatening Iran behind closed doors.
For now, I urge all Americans to contact the White House and let the president know you want strong actions that will bring Roxana home. You can visit the website dedicated to freeing her to follow her case and the fight for her. As we sit in our comfortable American homes, Roxana is starting a hunger strike today from prison doing what little she can to fight for her own freedom.