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Ex-BBC journalist arrested in Iran

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 08:47 UK time, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Two weeks ago, we learned that a former colleague had been arrested in Iran. Roxana Saberi, an American citizen, whose father is Iranian, has reported from Tehran for the BBC as well as the US public broadcaster NPR and ABC. She was detained at the end of January - but there is much that remains unclear about the circumstances of Roxana's arrest.

Roxana SaberiRoxana, 31, has lived in Iran for the past six years. Before her arrest she was studying for a master's degree in Iranian studies and international relations, and was writing a book about Iran. Last night the BBC joined other international broadcasters in calling for the Iranian authorities to detail the specific charges against Roxana Saberi if no charges are filed, we believe she should be released and given permission to return to the United States.

Roxana has many friends and colleagues around the world - all of us are deeply concerned about her well-being.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News Editor.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    The "press" have always regarded themselves as special. They expect to enjoy a degree in immunity that we lesser mortals do not share.

    Iran is a country quite different from ours. We may not like their absolutist beliefs, aspects of their culture and their disregard of "world" opinion, but we should respect them as a nation and a people.

    Their treatment of Ms Saberi may well be wrong, but to the Iranians she could be seen as a threat to their national ethos.

    I often wish that we in the UK were more purposeful in dealing with what we see as threats to our nation's safety and security.

    Our government is far too keen to ensure that the "human rights" of coercive suspects are upheld.

    Let's start by ensuring the human rights and safety of the law abiding citizens of this country are upheld!

    And if the "world" frowns, so be it !

  • Comment number 3.

    If you go into a snakepit, you will be bitten. She is supposed to be an educated woman, but she doesn't appear to have learned that the Iranian brand of Islam does not take the sanctity of life or human rights as part of it's teachings. If she has offended the religious fanatics who run the country then her hopes of a long and fruitful life will come to nothing.

  • Comment number 4.

    newsjock: I really don't want to get into this, and I'm certainly not the first to say this, but to uphold the human rights of the law abiding citizens, you have to uphold them for everyone. It's the same reason that capital punishment is wrong - if you kill someone who was innocent, you've failed.

    The whole point of human rights is that they're the rights _everyone_ has. There are other rights that can be removed from those found guilty of crimes (e.g. freedom of movement).

  • Comment number 5.

    Iran can be a nasty place under the current regime.

    I'm happy to give my best wishes to this young woman - I hope she is released.

    Shame all the other people in Iran in exactly the same situation (or worse, because they are unknown and face death) can't be given some publicity by the BBC.

    Perhaps if they had been journalists.....

  • Comment number 6.

    Any news on her release, condition, charges, etc?

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.


    I think that the Iranian Authorities should entailed (a) charge sheet against Roxana and if not...then she should be released from custody and allowed to fly home to the United States

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 9.

    When looking at this problem from a legal point of view then one can state that Miss Saberi entered Iran witn an iranian passport, hence she is iranian so if she has broken the laws of the state then she is ought to be prosecuted according to iranian laws. No other entity, specialy america, has a right to intefere by saying she is an american journalist. She is not she is an iranian national, lived in iran for some time and worked there too. so please stop the hypocritical comments

  • Comment number 10.

    "....but there is much that remains unclear about the circumstances of Roxana's arrest."

    Remove the name and add any other and this could be said about many arrests, even within the UK.

    I do wish the BBC would refrain from journalistic intrigue as a source of "here is a nasty regime" stories. Unless and until the actual charges are known then can the BBC not wait the requisite 42 days that the UK seems to believe is realistic in arrests?

    Personally I would like to see the BBC making more of any stories relating to "bright" people with "things to say" being arrested especially in the UK.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    the BBC are one of the greatest supporters of islam over any other religion so just how can they criticise an islamic country for doing what comes naturally to them ?

  • Comment number 13.

    Women may choose to wear a burkah but they are still visible.

    Did women wear make-up,bra's,knickers and jeans in the 7th century?

  • Comment number 14.


    I agree. It is far too easy to ignore the rights that we should all have (innocent until proven guilty) in the UK when the press start their usual mantras (hooded, black, from a gang culture etc) thus ignoring a very basic but essential human right.

    As #10 suggests, the UK is far from operating as a "free" country itself and so we should be very careful about how we implicitly criticise other regimes.

    Unpleasant things happen in all regimes but they are never reasons to remove freedom from others.

    I hope this young woman is released unharmed soon.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think the BBC's editorial policy is guilty of being a little partisan regarding Iran.

    Iran's society is changing but the constant demonising serves only to bolster the more extreme.

    Take today's BBC article regarding the US's continued imposition of sanctions against Iran:-
    "Enriched uranium can be used in nuclear power plants, but can also be used to make atomic weapons. "
    At best this is misleading (as the IAEA has said that no highly enriched uranium has been produced) and at worst, it's dishonest.

    I agree with #10

  • Comment number 16.

    Gee whizz - there sure is a lot of condemnation of the BBC on this blog - either for being pro-islamic, hypocritical (in that there is supposedly a comparable degree of political suppression in the UK that the BBC ignores), partisan against Iran or merely factually incorrect at describing the journalist as "an American".

    What about getting back to basics? A woman, from time to time an Iranian correspondent for the BBC, has been detained for a month and a half without the release of any information regarding the circumstances.

    For whatever reason you find yourselves to be pro-Iranian (and why on earth would you be?) or anti-BBC (again, ask yourselves why), at least recognise that there is genuine concern over Roxana Saberi's detention and that this concern is warranted.

  • Comment number 17.


    It is not for the UK or for the BBC to raise questions about the actions of the Iranian authorities unless they have clear evidence that this young woman has done absolutely nothing wrong. It could clearly offer that evidence to the Iranian authorities through legitimate channels. The BBC is a public service NOT a mouthpiece for political commentators who may be engaged in activities that breach the line in the sand (even if that line moves very readily).

    It was not so long ago that the UK was debating the prospect of ninety six days detention without charge in terrorist cases, and so we really cannot accuse the Iranians without having something very strong in this woman's defence. People who live in Iran know the regime and they also know the risks they take in everyday life. There has been plenty of inflammatory comment on Iran's nuclear capability in western circles, as unfounded as Iraq's WMD.

    I do not find the BBC overly objective in its reporting of the Middle East, and I worry that there are pressure groups in the UK that have unnecessary influence over what it broadcasts. I'd rather have some hard facts on this case than the bland blog that sits at the top of this to make Iran "look bad".

  • Comment number 18.


    Please teach me how I can become as deeply pessimistic as you. What an art.

    While you are at it let's hear about the "bright" people with "things to say" being arrested left, right and centre in the UK. As bright as you are I'd be scared to leave the house.

  • Comment number 19.


    Isn't it you (the BBC and a few other interested US media outlets) being rather pessimistic because you are all concerned about this young woman's welfare, or do you not express yourself very clearly when you have a bee bee c in your bonnet?

    Or perhaps you don't ever express yourself very clearly?

    Take care of yourself, sunshine.

  • Comment number 20.

    Roughly three percent of the 1228 arrests up to March 2007 made under terrorism legislation in the UK have resulted in convictions for terrorism. Over half those arrested were released without charge.

    Sally Cameron was arrested in 2005 under the Terrorism Act and held for four hours for walking along a cycle path in Dundee. The Terrorism Act was used on protesters outside Europe's biggest arms fair, in London's Docklands in 2003. An eleven year girl was asked to empty her pockets and handed a slip under the Terrorism Act 2000 at the G8 conference in 2005. An 80 year old man was stopped, searched and threatened with arrest if he didn't answer questions by City of London police. It transpired that his car had been "marked" because it tallied with a car seen close to a demonstration in Brighton some years before. There are plenty of other examples of where powers seem excessive and intelligence absent.

    It is essential that in our quest for freedom we do not ignore what is actually happening in our own backyard. Perhaps Iran is worthy of our finger pointing but not at the exclusion of the UK.

  • Comment number 21.

    Do you know why she was arrested? That is probably a more pertinent question. If she is innocent, you would like to think that release would be imminent, but it is the fear of what may be that has started this discussion.

    Is that right from a journalistic point of view, purely because she is a journalist? If she was a housewife, living in Tehran with her family, would it be reported the same? I doubt it.

    Of course, I have sympathy for anyone that is falsely imprisoned, charged, or worse, but it is a matter for the authorities to deal with, directly with Tehran.

    I've been to Tehran, and have seen how the young girls, particularly, push the boundaries, see how far they can get. Then there are the announcements, in Farsi, reminding women to observe the Islamic dress code, and all the girls pull their headscarves forward again.

    It comes down to a matter of trust - is Tehran trusted enough to disclose the real reason for arrest and deal with it accordingly. Their record on human rights towards women would suggest we cannot trust them, but until the authorities can confirm or otherwise, it is not for us to judge another nation like this. They have their laws, whatever we think of them, and Roxana will be aware of them.

    If she has broken a law, the state has the right to impose sentence, no matter what we may think about those laws.

  • Comment number 22.

    Roxana Saberi played with fire. Iran is very xenophobic society. Our liberal press like BBC hands pick news to gives us "politically correct" view on Iran. BBC sound like Iran is just another proud country that stand up Western Imperialism.
    English speaking sites like or even also "massage" message that goes on "export" to English readers.

    But read posts from general public. They don't shy of convey own views. You will be shocked by level of hate and intolerance.

  • Comment number 23.

    So i am guessing the point of the piece is we are not to like Iran.

    This is just pure propoganda and nothing else.

    It's a disgrace, it's misleading and it only serves to demonise another people who have the crazy notion of living above oil.

    Miss Siberi, once Miss Dakota, was detained because she bought alcohol and then found to have no valid visa for being in Iran.

    On march 9th, two days before this blog was written, her lawyer visited her in tehran and reported that she was 'depressed but showed no signs of torture'. Both her lawyer and her father report the charges to have been clear.

    Miss Siberi, seems an intelligent woman and a brave one too, she took a massive risk by placing herself illegally in a strict regime. She then pushed this by buying some wine, this is not an offence they always prosecute people for, but she now has to pay the consequence for it. Simple.

    Her book on Iranian culture may be a different one now.

    Although initially facing up to two years it now looks as though she will be released in the next few weeks.

    The whole thing is just there to make us fear Iran. How soon before we are told they can imprison any journalist in 45 mins.

    You could show concern for any number of journalists but you chose Iran a Country that although is the 6th largest jailer of journalists they dont even merit a mention on the 14 most dangerous countries for journalists.

    Last check they had 5 journalists in prison, 3 more than we have in Iraq, 1 more than Isreal has and the same amount as Azerbaijan has.

    I know your working hard at the BBC, but what i want to know is, who you are working for?

  • Comment number 24.

    In my Opinion,Iran is a Power in the MIddle East.I am a voracious reader
    News concerning Iran because I see Iran as a Major Power in the region..and a "Power", which had never ever over stepped in making Wars or bullying other Countries in the region like does the USA or Israel.The USA & Israel in particular has the audacity to blame Iran while all the DIRTY TRICKS in the Bag are committed by these two Countries, so much, that they are a reall nuisance to the stability of the region and the World's Security in particular. THERE IS NO DENYING OF THIS FACT. The USA is committing all the "DIRTY GAMES", you name any dirty thing perhaps the USA & Israel are behind it.
    Roxana Saberi is another Pawn in this Game and she well deserves a JAIL SENTENCE if she had been proved being a SPY, which I reckon might be True seeing the track record of the USA.

  • Comment number 25.

    Iran has all the RIGHTS to prosecute SPYS & Criminals if they are a Threat to that Country. If other Western Countries, USA in particular could Pick every Tom, DICK & Harry from Afghanistan on charges of Suscpicion and Jail such persons in Guantanamo without any formal charge, it is Well & Fair and more than Justified for Iran to Jail someone who enters their Country to Spy on behalf of someone else.

  • Comment number 26.


    First & foremeost please do not talk of Human Rights when there rae many Countries in the West are abusing Human Rights in the Name of DEMOCRACY or War on Terror. The tem " Humena Rights" is very vague and not clearly defined when it is dealt with Countries like the USA in particular along with its Poodle Israel. So, don't judge Iran so that others would be judged as well. Iran has
    Laws to deal with Spys and their Law would take its course to deal with such cases.
    I am not an Iranian, but we should be Fair when judging others when so much of Dirt has accumilated around many other Countries and in comparison Iran is still a Toddler.

  • Comment number 27.

    Demonized Iranian Women’s Crucial Role in Nation Building Classic Example of How Western Media Deceived the World.
    Posted on 16 March 2009 by Latheef Farook

    The general image built up by the relentless pro Jewish Western media since the 1979 Islamic Revolution has been that women in Iran were an oppressed lot without any freedom that the women in the West were supposed to have been blessed with.

    I too was partly a victim of this powerful Western propaganda that is part of the western war machine. However, I was shocked to realize during my recent visit to Tehran that women were working, shoulder to shoulder with men, in the task of building this country in every possible conceivable field.

    This oil rich country, proud of its long history traced back to 3000 BC, was devastated by the eight year war triggered off when assassinated Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, put forward by the United States, Europe, Israel and some Arab countries, despatched his troops to invade Iran in 1980 in the hope he could snatch Iran’s oil rich Arabistan within weeks.
    This war was regarded as the richest in history as the western weapons industry flourished while almost a million Iraqis and Iranian soldiers perished, caused billions of dollars worth of destruction and devastation besides unbearable misery to the people of the two countries.

    Once the war ended in 1988 Iran, isolated by most countries in the world, started concentrating on rebuilding the nation, while keeping a close watch on forces all out to destroy the Islamic Revolution .These efforts turned this country today into an almost developed one and Tehran, a city of 17 million people, with a daily floating population of three million, into one of the most developed and cleanest cities in the world.

    Contrary to the Western propaganda, that women were an oppressed lot under the Islamic Revolution great importance was attached, since the early days of the revolution, to provide a balanced education to men and women alike aimed at equipping them with various skills needed to ensure that women also contribute as equal partners in nation building task. Simultaneously, they also concentrated in providing a sound religious knowledge that ensures smooth day-to-day life linking family ties.

    As a result of this policy almost thirty years later today women play a crucial role in the day-to-day running of the country. In fact, around 67 percent of the graduates passed from numerous universities all over the country last year were women. They work as receptionists, clerks, salespersons, businesswomen, doctors, nurses, architects, engineers, researchers, professors, lecturers, scientists and parliamentarians to almost every other field. They freely walk and drive around, neither without any let or hindrance nor without any harassment as the people turned Tehran into a crime free city. In fact, their lifestyle has been such that they were equally responsible for maintaining law and order together with the authorities. Girls from colleges and universities are now being engaged in painting producing colorful artworks on special clothes on walls along several streets in Tehran. Women were seen selling flowers around traffic lights almost during mid night in this brightly lit city of more than 2000 well maintained parks where families spend their leisure.

    In short, there is nothing that the Iranian women were deprived of that the women in the west enjoy except immoral sex scenes seen in the west.

    As moral principles is a priority in paving the way for stable family and building up an energetic society without anyexception, women adhere to a modest dress code in keeping with Islamic principle s which they are proud of, though some even in our country regard this as unfit for schools. They are treated with respect and dignity everywhere. Of course, they were not provided with unlimited freedom that would cross the accepted moral barriers.
    As bartering of sex in red light areas, as it has been done in many Western capitals in the name of freedom, is unimaginable.
    In the aftermath of the war when they started the gigantic task of rebuilding their country, numerous obstacles were placed in their drive to engineer the collapse of the revolution. Forefront in this campaign were the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and the Jewish lobbies all over backed by some countries in the Middle East .They used the United Nations to impose crippling economic sanctions throttling Iran’s rebuilding efforts.

    It was very difficult time for the people who suffered under the war. There was no one to turn to. Yet they didn’t sit back and cry. Instead, they exploited this difficult time to produce all what they needed within their country. Hundreds of thousands of factories started springing up all over the country. The government gave every possible incentive, assistance and guidance. These new factories started producing almost every possible conceivable item. The result was once starved local markets were flooded with locally produced items paving the way for an economic boom throwing out employment opportunities for millions.

    Encouraged by the success of small scale industries, medium and large-scale industries came into being paving the way for major industrial complexes producing items which they had never imagined before the United Nations’ economic sanctions were imposed. Some of the key industries in the country include petroleum, gas, petrochemical ,steel, weaving, food processing, car manufacturing, electrical and electronics to handicrafts, household and traditional industries such as carpet weaving, coarse carpets and ceramic industries.

    Over the years, Iran has emerged as the largest car manufacturer in the entire Middle East and established joint ventures with foreign partners in four continents. So much so today about 75 percent of the around two million cars used in Tehran were locally made.

    Today there are around 17 thousand industrial workshops and, of this, around 97 percent belong to private sector while the remaining account for public sector ownership.

    Equal importance was attached to develop the agricultural and livestock sectors catering to local demands.
    Hand in hand health and education sectors too were developed. In the health sector alone, there are hundreds of thousands of doctors, both general physicians and specialists, working under the supervision of the health ministry in around 6500 well-equipped health care centers in the cities and nearly 3000 in rural areas.
    Owing to the systematic drive to educate and equip the people for nation building task, 65 million of the little more than 70 million populations, are literate. This includes male more than 92 percent and female nearly 81 percent.
    Today the country is provided with some of the best road networks that also included subways and overhead bridges built entirely under the supervision of local engineers.

    Iranians are proud of their achievements and keen to continue their progress march despite threats from United State, European, Israel and their collaborators in the Middle East.

    “We have lost enough lives, shed enough of blood and sweated for years to reach where we are today. We know the taste of the fruits of our sacrifice and hard work and we will go to any length to protect and preserve these achievements. Our society is a liquor free, crime free, immoral activities free one with healthy and peaceful family environment. This is the envy of the West that is all out to destroy us. The country is blessed with dedicated and committed religious and political leaderships guiding the nation with dignity while following a fiercely independent policy in the regional and international scenes,” said many people from different walks of life in Tehran.

  • Comment number 28.


    I am delighted to see a piece of writing that tries to balance out the damage that western media (including the BBC) is doing to International relations with Iran. I wish the media (especially the BBC who are supposed to be neutral) would stop playing lap dog to their political leaders.

    This piece on Ms Saberi, along with its later sibling, does nothing for her reputation as I delightful young woman caught up in a "media game" she did not understand nor see the dangers of. In my opinion and of that in #23 we, the fools who sit entranced by what the BBC produce, deserve better than a stream of misinformation more appropriate for a Soviet style hand out in Stalingrad.

    Will we ever see a really accurate and responsible free press? That depends on who, amongst the many thousands of journalists, is prepared to stand up for the freedom to write the truth and not words of appeasement of Israel because the latter is more likely to guarantee them a well paid job.


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