Roxana Saberi spent World Press Freedom Day as she has almost every day since January 31 – in Evin prison in Tehran. The 32-year-old Iranian American journalist has been sentenced to 8 years for allegedly spying for the United States.
Ms. Saberi was convicted of espionage on April 18 after a one-day closed-door trial, and her case is currently under appeal in Iran. President Barack Obama, as well as her family and friends, have insisted the charges against Ms. Saberi are baseless.
Unfortunately, Ms. Saberi is not the only journalist imprisoned in Iran. The non-governmental press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders has called Iran "the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East" and notes that there are 7 journalists and 2 bloggers currently in jail in Iran.
Three of them – Adnan Hassanpour, Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand and Mohammad Hassan Falahizadeh -- were sentenced to long prison terms for supposed crimes against national security. A young Iranian blogger, Omidreza Mirsayafi, recently died in Evin prison under suspicious circumstances.
The most recent U.S. State Department report on human rights in Iran point outs that while the Iranian constitution "provides for freedom of expression and of the press ... in practice, the government severely restrict[s]" both. The consequences for journalists are serious, according to the report:
"During the year, the government detained, jailed, tortured or fined numerous publishers, editors and journalists (including Internet media) for their reporting." Censorship, particularly self-censorship, said the State Department, also limits the dissemination of information in Iran.
In a written statement published in honor of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, President Barack Obama spoke of the "indispensable role played by journalists in exposing abuses of power." He expressed concern for the plight of Roxana Saberi and two other American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, arbitrarily imprisoned in North Korea.
He also spoke of the cases of hundreds of other journalists around the globe who each year "face intimidation, censorship and arbitrary arrest – guilty of nothing more than a passion for truth and a tenacious belief that a free society depends on an informed citizenry." Said President Obama, "I lend my voice of support and admiration to all those brave men and women of the press who labor to expose truth and enhance accountability around the world."