One of the world's leading press freedom groups has begun a hunger strike in solidarity with an Iranian-American journalist in prison in Iran. Reporters Without Borders U.S. office staged a rally outside of the United Nations headquarters Sunday to demand Roxana Saberi's immediate release. The press freedom group also called on North Korea to release two American reporters, saying their detainment is politically motivated.
Reporters Without Borders staged the rally outside U.N. headquarters on Sunday to mark World Press Freedom Day. The protest was smaller than anticipated as a steady rain fell on New York City. But organizers said they were not deterred. The group also began a hunger strike Sunday in solidarity with journalist Roxanna Saberi, who began refusing food on April 21, while being held in an Iranian jail.
Saberi is a dual Iranian-American citizen who was born in the United States. She moved to Tehran to work as a reporter and was arrested in January on charges of spying for the United States. She was sentenced in April to eight years in prison after a one-day trial behind closed doors.
The United States calls the spying charges "baseless". The case has been a source of tension between Washington and Tehran as President Barack Obama's administration tries to increase dialogue with that country.
Reporters Without Borders' New York Director, Tala Dowlatshahi, who also is an Iranian-American, says a case like Saberi's only widens the divide between the two countries.
"If, in fact, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and [U.S. President Barack] Obama are going to develop a partnership and open up pathways to develop this relationship, then we really call on this administration to put pressure on the Iranians to get Roxanna released as soon as possible," said Tala Dowlatshahi.
On Saturday, Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki said that Saberi's appeal will be "reviewed justly and humanely."
But Reporters Without Borders is calling for Saberi's immediate and unconditional release.
Lucie Morillon, the group's Washington Director, says the international community needs to put more pressure on Iranian authorities.
"We believe that the U.S. administration has been doing a lot to try and obtain the release through diplomatic channels," said Lucie Morillon. "But it's not the only thing that should be done. We're trying here to have some public organization, to raise awareness through the media as well as to show the Iranian administration that the world is watching and it's not an issue that will go away."
Reporters Without Borders is also calling for the immediate release of two American journalists arrested in North Korea on charges of "hostile acts."
Euna Lee, a Korean-American, and Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, were detained by North Korea March 17 along North Korea's border with China as the two reported on refugee and human trafficking in the region.
Pyongyang says the two journalists will stand trial on criminal charges - a move seen by some analysts, including Morillon, as an attempt to pressure Washington into direct dialogue with the communist state.
"We don't know exactly when a trial is going to take place," she said. "What we all know is that they were doing nothing wrong, just their work as journalists. And again, they were arrested at a time when North Korean authorities were about to launch the missile, so they have been used as bargaining chips by the North Korean government."
Since World Press Freedom Day was first observed in 1993, about 700 journalists around the world have been killed and hundreds more jailed in pursuit of their profession.