Tehran Detains American-Iranian Journalist

Reza Saberi holds a picture of his daughter, Roxana Saberi, a freelance journalist. Iranian authorities said she had been working in Iran illegally.
Reza Saberi holds a picture of his daughter, Roxana Saberi, a freelance journalist. Iranian authorities said she had been working in Iran illegally. (By Jay Pickthorn -- Associated Press)
By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TEHRAN, March 2 -- Iran's Foreign Ministry said Monday that an American Iranian freelance journalist who, according to her family, was detained more than a month ago, had been working in the country illegally.

Roxana Saberi's Iranian-born father, who lives in Fargo, N.D., said Sunday that his daughter has been held in Iran since Jan. 31 and that there has been no information about her fate since she called nearly three weeks ago and told him she had been detained for buying a bottle of wine.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said that the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture had revoked Saberi's credentials in 2007. "She shouldn't have tried to gather news and information on Iran illegally," Qashqavi told reporters Monday, according to the state news agency IRNA.

He did not say why Saberi's credentials had been revoked or whether she was in prison.

Saberi, 31, was born in the United States but also holds an Iranian passport. She had reported from Iran for the BBC, National Public Radio and other news organizations before her press card was revoked.

Iran does not acknowledge dual nationality. Legally, Saberi is not regarded here as either a foreign citizen or a reporter from the United States but as an Iranian engaged in activities for foreign news media.

U.S. news media have increased their presence in Iran in recent years, with 15 representatives now in the country. The Washington Post has had a bureau in Tehran since August.

Officials here point out that the United States does not accredit Iranian journalists. The only official Iranian reporter in the United States is a correspondent for state broadcaster IRIB, who is accredited by the United Nations in New York and is not allowed to travel more than 25 miles from that city.

Saberi moved to Iran six years ago. In an interview with NPR, her father, Reza Saberi, said that when he spoke to her Feb. 10, she said she had been in detention for 10 days.

"She called from an unknown place and said she's been kept in detention," he said.

Saberi grew up in Fargo, where she was an accomplished high school soccer player and pianist. In 1997, she was named Miss North Dakota. Since moving to Iran, she had been working as a freelance journalist and completing work on a master's degree in Iranian studies and international relations.

Reza Saberi confirmed Sunday that his daughter's credentials as a correspondent had been revoked but said she had stayed in Tehran to pursue her studies and conduct research for a book about Iranian society, the Reuters news service reported.

Esha Momeni, an Iranian American student at California State University at Northridge who was detained in Iran in October for supporting a campaign for women's rights, still cannot return home.

Momeni was arrested after conducting video interviews with rights activists for her master's thesis. Authorities accused her of "propagating against the system." She was released in November after paying $200,000 bail but was not allowed to leave Iran.

"A new issue has turned up in her case," a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary said in January.

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