Report says Iran may hold Saberi for prolonged period

New York, March 25, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a news report indicating that Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi might remain in a Tehran prison for a prolonged period. In a telephone conversation with her father, Saberi said a prosecutor told her she would remain in detention for “months or even years,” The New York Times reported today.

“We are very deeply concerned by the circumstances of Roxana Saberi’s detention,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “She continues to be held without charge, while officials have offered shifting reasons for her detention.”

Saberi was detained in January. Since then, Iranian officials have issued conflicting explanations for the detention. Initially, Saberi told her family that she was apparently being held for buying wine. A few days later, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry stated that Saberi was detained for reporting without proper accreditation. The next day, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary confirmed that she was being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where political prisoners are frequently jailed. He added that she was being held in accordance with a writ issued by the Revolutionary Court, but he would not reveal the reasons for the detention. 

“We are particularly concerned about Saberi’s welfare, especially in light of where she is being held,” CPJ’s Abdel Dayem said.

At least two journalists have died at Evin Prison in the last six years in situations that have not been fully explained, CPJ research shows. Omidreza Mirsayafi, an Iranian blogger serving ‎a 30-month sentence on a charge of insulting religious figures, died at Evin Prison last week under mysterious circumstances. In 2003, Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died from a brain hemorrhage that resulted from a beating at Evin Prison. An intelligence agent charged in the killing was acquitted after a flawed trial. Kazemi had been jailed because she took photographs outside the prison.

More than 10,000 people worldwide signed a CPJ petition expressing deep concern about Saberi’s detention. CPJ presented the petition to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York.

Saberi, 31, has worked for National Public Radio, the BBC, ABC News, and other international media outlets. Those outlets and other major news organizations have issued a joint statement calling on authorities to file specific charges or release Saberi immediately.