U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi is back home after an Iranian appeals court May 11 cut her prison sentence to a suspended two-year term. Saberi had been held in Tehran's Evin prison since January after she was arrested for working in Iran without valid press credentials. She was later accused of spying and convicted in a closed-door trial that her father said lasted less than an hour. Saberi, who gave Voice of America an exclusive Farsi interview, talked about the ordeal in a TV broadcast to Iran over the Persian News Network.
Since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, human rights organizations and foreign governments have accused Iran of holding, and in some cases, mistreating political prisoners. Iran denies the practice.
Saberi said she was released only after she falsely confessed that she was a US spy. "They promise to release you if you confess. One thing they do is they record the confession and they video recorded my confession," Saberi said. "Now I want to say here that if one day they decide to show that video, it's all a lie," she said.
Saberi said she was not physically tortured in the prison but she was always under tremendous mental pressure.
"At first I was in solitary for two weeks," she explained. "Then they transferred me to a jail with three, four other women who changed constantly. But they were all political prisoners in ward 209 of the prison," she said.
Saberi had worked as a freelance journalist in Iran since 2003, filing stories for NPR [U.S. public radio network], the BBC and other news outlets. The former Miss North Dakota grew up in Fargo and has Iranian citizenship through her father.
Saberi's arrest triggered Western media attention which generated international pressure on Iran to release her. But she says until she found out about the international support, she thought no one in the world knew where she was.
"After several weeks when they sentenced me to eight years in prison, I saw the reaction of the Western media to my case in a report on Iranian state television, because after a while they gave me a television set," Saberi said.
She says she is out of prison now because of that support.
"I have to say that without the international support, I would still be in prison," Saberi noted. "Just as is the case with others who are still in prison there."
Even after her experience in Iran's prison system facing what she said were false charges, Saberi now expresses no bitterness about her father's homeland.
"Of course, no part of the world is problem-free," she said. "In Iran too, there are challenges and opportunities, and I think this is the real visage of Iran. There are different people, different groups and this is the beauty of Iran."
Roxana Saberi says Iran is like a rainbow and now that is what she wants to show the world.