Saberi Case New Salvo in Iranian Press Freedom Assault
Freedom House is deeply concerned by reports that an Iranian judge has charged Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi with spying for the United States and calls for her immediate release. Saberi's case is expected to go to trial next week, although her lawyer has yet to see the indictment that was handed down yesterday.
"The Roxana Saberi case is the latest instance of an alarming trend in which Iran is imprisoning journalists and bloggers and charging them with serious crimes," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "The fact that the indictment has yet to be released only adds to our suspicion that the charges against Saberi are baseless."
For six years, Saberi has worked openly as a freelance journalist in Iran reporting for outlets such as National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corporation. Authorities arrested the dual Iranian and American citizen in late January. Saberi told her family that she was arrested for buying a bottle of wine. A Foreign Ministry spokesman later said she was detained for working in the country after they revoked her press credentials.
Saberi's lawyer said her case is to be reviewed by Iran's Revolutionary Court. Iran’s judiciary frequently denies accused journalists due process by referring their cases to the court, which acts as an emergency venue intended for those suspected of seeking to overthrow the regime. Journalists currently imprisoned for "threatening national security" include Shahnaz Gholami, who is serving a six-month sentence in Tabriz, and Kurdish journalist Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand, who received an 11-year sentence in 2008.
Press freedom has been declining in Iran for several years, as authorities increasingly crack down on critical publications and arrest journalists and bloggers. Some 570 publications have been shut down since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. A report issued by the Association of Iranian journalists in 2007 stated that the profession had suffered in quality and investment because of the government’s crackdown on independent newspapers.
The Islamic Republic couches its restrictions on press freedom in an opaque and arbitrary conception of Islamic morality outlined by the constitution, the press law, and the penal code. Iranian authorities are especially restrictive on coverage of women’s rights issues, antigovernment demonstrations, the ailing economy, and the development of nuclear technology.
Iran is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Iran since 1972.
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