A group of Iranian journalists and webloggers have issued a statement on the occasion of the International Day of Press Freedoms, May 3, 2009, condemning political games which take advantage of journalists. The statement also calls for the release of Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist currently in prison on charges of espionage, and demands that judiciary officials clarify the judicial review process with respect to her case. According to the site of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, the statement which was signed by leading Iranian journalists and published on 3 May, 2009 reads as follows:
Statement of Iranian Journalists and Webloggers Addressed to Judiciary and Security Officials Regarding the Case of Roxana Saberi
We Condemn Taking Advantage of Journalists in Political Games
“Roxana Diplomacy” which in recent days has been discussed in the analysis provided by some political figures, has posed a dilemma for those in the press—Have journalists turned into a bargaining chip for politicians, now? This analysis has taken a more serious tone in recent days upon the ruling of the court in the case of Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist, who was sentenced to eight years imprisonment on the charge of espionage.
Roxana Saberi was initially arrested on the charge of possessing alcoholic beverages in February 2009, and remains under arrest to date. Following the initial ruling of the court in the case against Ms. Saberi, and the objection of the press, human rights community and political groups, both nationally and internationally, Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to Saied Mortazavi, the Tehran Prosecutor, asking that justice and legal standards be observed during the judicial review process in the case pending against Ms. Saberi. Officials in the US administration have also called the ruling against Ms. Saberi unjust and have reacted at the highest levels to condemn it.
Moving beyond the reasons for the issuance of such a letter by Mr. Ahmadinejad to Saied Mortazavi in the last few weeks of his first term as President, the timing of this letter which coincided with the President’s trip to Switzerland to attend the Durban meeting, and the hosting of an international meeting of Prosecutors from Islamic Countries by the Tehran Prosecutor provides much cause for thought. Additionally, worth attention is the fact that the manner in which this case has been dealt with by the President is not in line with past responses to similar cases, such as the cases pending against student activists from Amir Kabir University.
If the analysis that assumes that some Iranian political figures intend to utilize the arrest of Roxana Saberi who was carrying out her duties as a journalist in Iran, in their political negotiations with foreign countries then we have to ask the president whether “justice and judicial standards have been observed in institutions under his direction and under the control of the executive branch?” Our expectation from the President is not that he impact the judiciary’s behavior, rather it is that at a minimum he exerts due control over the ministries under his control so that individuals are not taken advantage of in political games in such a manner.
On the other hand, as journalists we ask judiciary officials, that if such an analysis of the situation is indeed founded to be correct, how does the judiciary justify legally, morally, religiously, culturally and ethically, its treatment of a journalist in detention, who has been denied her basic rights and denied fair due process?
As journalists and webloggers and given the issues we have pointed to above, we express our regret and concern regarding the manner in which the case against Ms. Roxana Saberi has been handled by the Judiciary and while calling for her immediate release we request transparency and clarification with respect to the handling of her case. We call on judiciary officials to retain their independence and impartiality when reviewing this case in appeals and urge them to observe the highest standards of justice and due process, to ensure that journalists who are engaged in carrying out their professional responsibilities of news reporting are not unwittingly and unwillingly pulled into political games. Additionally we call on the Judiciary to identify those officials who may have acted inappropriately or illegally with respect to this case and to bring up charges against them. We remind that the arrest of journalists and the creation of unwarranted limitations for them in carrying out their duties will only work to increase divides between the press and government officials.
May 3, 2009