Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Film director writes public love letter about fiancee, jailed journo Roxana Saberi
Iran's prize-winning filmmaker, Bahman Ghobadi, who has won international recognition after awards in Berlin and Cannes, today has released a heart-wrenching letter which gives the important backstory on the imprisoned Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi (pictured above with former leader of Iran.)
Iran sentenced journalist Roxana Saberi to eight years in prison on charges of espionage after a brief closed door trial. She had been living in Iran and working as a reporter and researcher, although the government claimed her press credentials are now invalid. Her harsh sentence has generated a global outcry. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have called for her release. Amnesty International is demanding that the flaws of the original trial be addressed and for Roxana to be released immediately on bail. Speculation about the nefarious motives for her arrest are rife.
The Iranian government knows that all eyes are on them and there is mounting pressure for a fair trial. Both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Head of the Judiciary Shahroudi have urged Tehran's chief prosecutor to investigate the case. Shahroudi said, "a fair examination of the case, especially at the appeal stage, is the defendant's right." This case comes at a critical time; President Obama has offered to start a dialogue with Iran and break a 30-year diplomatic deadlock.
The Iranian government has not released any evidence against Roxana and reports indicate she was pressured into making statements that were used against her in the legal proceedings. It seems she has become a pawn in the political maneuvering that is unfolding in Iran's relations with the United States.
Her harsh prison sentence is yet another example of the increasingly severe crackdown on those exercising their rights to peaceful freedom of expression and association in Iran. The government of Iran has recently imprisoned and persecuted numerous bloggers, journalists, labor activists, students and members of religious minorities.
Here is the full text of the love letter, as cited in the London Independent.
What the letter said (AFP translation)
"If I kept quiet until now, it was for her sake. If today I speak, it is for her sake. She is my friend, my fiancée, and my companion, an intelligent and talented young woman I have always admired.
It was the 31st of January. The day of my birthday. That morning, she called to say she would pick me up so we would go out together. She never came. I called her mobile but it was off and for two to three days, I had no idea what had happened to her. I went to her apartment and since we had each other's keys, I went in, but she wasn't there. Two days later, she called and said: "Forgive me my dear, I had to go to Zahedan." I got angry: why hadn't she said anything to me? I told her I didn't believe her and again she said: 'Forgive me my dear, I had to go.' And the line was cut. I waited for her to call back. But she didn't.
I left for Zahedan. I looked for her in every hotel, but nobody had ever heard her name. For 10 days, thousands of wild thoughts came to mind, until I learnt through her father that she had been arrested. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was a misunderstanding, that she would be released after two or three days. But days went by and I had no news. I started to worry and knocked on every door for help, until I understood what had happened.
It is with tears in my eyes that I say she is innocent and guiltless. It is me, who has known her for years, and shared every moment with her, who declares it. She was always busy reading and doing her research. Nothing else. During all these years I've known her, she wouldn't go anywhere without letting me know... To her friends, her family, everyone that surrounded her, she had given no signs of unreasonable behaviour.
How come someone who would spend days without going out of her apartment, except to see me; someone who, like a Japanese lady, would carefully spend her money, and had sometimes trouble making a living; someone who was looking for a sponsor to get in contact with a local publisher so her book would be printed here [in Iran] now be charged with a spying accusation?! We all know – no, we have all seen in movies – that spies are malicious and sneaky, that they peep around for information, and that they are very well paid. And now my heart is full of sorrow. Because it is me who incited her to stay here. And now I can't do anything for her. Roxana wanted to leave Iran. I kept her from it.
At the beginning of our relationship, she wanted to go back to the United States. She would have liked us to go together. But I insisted for her to stay until my new film was over... And now I am devastated, for it is because of me she has been subject to these events. These past years, I have been subject to a serious depression. Why? Because my movie had been banned, and released on the black market. My next movie was not given an authorisation, and I was forced to stay at home. If I've been able to stand it until today, it is thanks to the help that she provided me with.
... She is the one who took care of me while I was depressed. Then I convinced her to stay, I wanted her to write the book she had started in her head... She was absorbed by her book, to the point that she could stay and bear it all, until my film would be finished, and we would leave together.
Roxana's book was a praise to Iran. The manuscripts exist, and it will certainly be published one day, and all will see it. But why have they said nothing? All those who have talked, worked and sat with her, and who know how guiltless she is.
I am writing this letter for I am worried about her. I am worried about her health. I heard she was depressed and cried all the time. She is very sensitive. To the point she refuses to touch her food. My letter is a desperate call to all statesmen, and to all those who can do something to help.
From the other side of the ocean, the Americans have protested against her imprisonment, because she is an American citizen. But I say no, she is Iranian, and she loves Iran. I beg you, let her go! I beg you not to throw her in the midst of your political games! She is too weak and too pure to take part in your games.
Let me be present at her trial, to sit next to her wise father and gentle mother and testify she is without guilt or reproach. I am optimistic about her release and I hope the verdict will be cancelled in the next stage of the trial. My Iranian girl with Japanese eyes and an American ID, is in jail. Shame on me! Shame on us!"