Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old Iranian American freelance journalist from Fargo, N.D., has been in Evin prison since her Jan. 31 arrest. Saberi’s detention and delayed release are the latest twists in a frightening pattern of harassment and detainment of women and dual nationals by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, whose clout and reach have expanded under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The ministry is behind a stepped-up campaign to silence female writers, journalists, and peaceful activists.
Saberi, who has reported for the BBC, NPR, and other respected news outlets, has lived in Iran for six years. Officials allege that Saberi was working “illegally” because her press credentials had been revoked. No formal charges have been filed against Saberi, and she has been allowed only a couple of brief telephone calls to her family and meetings with her attorney.
Charges were filed in the case of Esha Momeni, a graduate student at California State University at Northridge who was arrested last October while visiting family and researching her master’s thesis. Her parents’ apartment was searched, and her computer and videotapes of interviews that she had conducted as research on the Iranian women’s movement were seized. Momeni, who spent three weeks in solitary confinement in Evin, was charged with “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the state.” Although Momeni was released on $200,000 bail, the government kept her passport, making it impossible for her to leave the country.
These days, the Intelligence Ministry arrests and incarcerates people at will. Officials consider any Iranian with ties to the West a security threat and label innocent scholarly or journalistic activity as “propaganda against the system” or “acting against state security.” Since “evidence” is often flimsy or nonexistent – Saberi was arrested for allegedly purchasing a bottle of wine, and Momeni was arrested for a traffic violation – agents have resorted to KGB-style methods to capture targeted individuals.
As I have written before, shining a spotlight on human rights abuses in Iran is not only the moral thing to do, it is very much in keeping with realpolitik as well. The more the Islamic regime’s legitimacy is undermined, the less leeway it has to cause mischief and the more it is forced to work to resolve concerns about the human rights abuses it engages in. That’s win-win all around for those concerned both about the state of freedom and individual rights in Iran, and those concerned about the regime’s ability to make mischief around the world.