The widespread security crackdown in Iran will continue to intensify, predicts Roxana Saberi, the U.S. journalist recently freed from an Iranian prison.
Saberi, a 32-year-old American whose father is Iranian and mother is Japanese, recently spent nearly four months imprisoned by the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
She said hundreds of people in Iran who have been jailed by authorities there are facing bigger problems than she did. “They are retained without due processes of law and the whereabouts of most of them are unknown. They have little or no contact with the outside world. They are likely under severe psychological—and in some cases physical—pressures. Many may be forced to make false confessions and they have no access to lawyers. This is very similar to the treatment that I received.”
In her first U.S. press conference since being released May 11 from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, Saberi said she thought the government’s forceful military response to dissent was going to increase, especially in the wake of last week’s protests. “Especially under the Ahmadinejad government, hardliners took this security approach to the Iranian society where they looked at many individuals and groups as security threats that have to be dealt with through security means such as intimidation or force or putting people in jail or putting them on trial.”
Saberi said while the authorities often trump up charges that journalists, artists, and others are posing a “threat to Islam or national interests, it is more often a question of what kind of threat does it pose to the people in power.”
While she was not beaten in prison and was fed three meals a day, Saberi said she doubts that is the treatment political prisoners are getting these days. “Probably many of these detainees today who have been arrested in the context of these elections are under physical torture,” she said.
“Iran has reached a point in which it cannot return to what it was before the election on June 12th. The mentality of a lot of people has changed.”
“Iran has reached a point in which it cannot return to what it was before the election on June 12th. The mentality of a lot of people has changed. There is an increased distrust on the part of a lot of Iranians toward not only certain authorities, but also toward now the ruling system because of the way they were treated with force and violence,” said Saberi, who had been a freelance journalist in Iran since 2003. She was working on a book about Iran when she was arrested and initially accused of being a spy.
Saberi predicts the recent repression may backfire. “Perhaps many of the Iranians have been scared into silence, which seems what is happening, but this does not mean that their demands and their questions will simply disappear. I think they will just remain simmering under the surface and when they get another opportunity to appear, they could burst out into the open.”
Saberi was the star attraction at a press conference in New York co-sponsored by the Overseas Press Club of New York and a coalition of Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, and Amnesty International-USA.
Allan Dodds Frank is a business investigative correspondent who specializes in white-collar crime. He also is president of the Overseas Press Club of America, one of the many journalism organizations that protests the arrests of journalists abroad and repression of freedom of speech.