roxana_saberi_between_two_worlds_200Main Street Journal
March 25, 2011
Online exclusive

An American journalist who spent 100 days as a political prisoner in Iran spoke yesterday in Memphis. Roxana Saberi, author of Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran, shared her story with an intimate crowd gathering at Hutchison High School. The presentation was part of a nation-wide series of dialogues called Community Conversations, organized by Facing History and Ourselves and The Allstate Foundation.

Saberi grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, where she was raised by her Japanese mother and Iranian father. In 1997, she earned a degree in Communication from Concordia College before being chosen as Miss North Dakota and ultimately becoming a top ten finalist in the Miss America pageant. Saberi used her prize winnings to pursue a Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern University.

Saberi, who holds both Iranian and American citizenship, developed an interest in her father’s heritage and in 2003 decided to visit and work in Iran. She traveled throughout the country as a journalist and became acquainted with its society and culture. Saberi describes Iran as a land filled with beautiful places, delicious Persian cuisine, and people with diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, Iran is governed by an oppressive regime that denies basic rights to its citizens, who have learned to speak and behave differently in public than in private.

She said the unexpected 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then Mayor of Tehran, reversed what had been moderate democratic progress under the previous administration, substantially hindering her work as a reporter. Saberi decided to stay in Iran, however, and was writing a book on the country when she was arrested by four “plain-clothes” men on January 31, 2009. Saberi was accused of being an American spy, forced to make a false confession (which she later recanted), and sentenced to eight years in prison. She served 100 days before being released when an appeals court dismissed the charges against her.

But it was fate, she says, that allowed her to make several friends there, brave women she calls “angels in Evin,” the notorious prison where Iran holds its political prisoners. Saberi showed photos of several others who remain locked up there today, including Hossein Derakhshan (known as “Hoder,” or the “Iranian Blogfather”), seven Iranian leaders of the Baha’i Faith, and American anti-war activists Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, who were arrested while hiking in the Kurdish mountain region on the border between Iraq and Iran.

Saberi encourages Americans to speak out on behalf of Iran’s political prisoners and oppressed population, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous saying, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.