The story that began with the arrest of a young woman under the pretext of purchasing a bottle of alcohol has become a litmus test of the relationship between Barack Obama’s administration and Iran.
It also is a litmus test of Iran’s relationship with the Iranian communities around the world, especially in the US.
Saberi is not the first in Iran to be arrested, accused, and convicted of espionage for America. Last year alone 14 journalists were imprisoned in Iran, while 34 newspapers were forced to cease publication. Most of the cases against journalists in Iran are based upon allegations of espionage, which is an accusation that has been levelled at a large number of freelance journalists and Iranian journalists that hold a second nationality.
In the case of Roxana Saberi, who has lived in Iran for over six years during which her articles appeared in a number of US and Western publications, the case was brought against her. At first she was arrested for purchasing alcohol and working as a journalist without a license for which she was convicted. Ten days later Saberi was accused of the more serious crimes of espionage, and in a secret trial was sentenced to eight years imprisonment, without the Iranian authorities revealing the evidence that led to her conviction.
This case occurred at a sensitive time when the new US administration is adopting a more moderate policy of dialogue towards Iran. Supporters of this dialogue fear that the case of journalist Roxana Saberi will lead to a setback in the efforts to improve relations between the two countries. Even more serious than this is Iran’s tendency to use such cases against Iranians who have dual citizenship in order to put pressure on other countries. Therefore those currently held behind [by Iran] have become bargaining chips that Iran will use to achieve its own ends.
Perhaps this explains the record speed with which the Iranian judiciary accepted the appeal of the case’s decision that was made just a few days ago.
The speed of the Iranian response to the international and American displeasure at Saberi’s arrest, and the speed with which an appeal was accepted, was remarkable. This instant acceptance of an appeal to the conviction suggests the weakness in the legal argument that resulted in the conviction of journalist Roxana Saberi, and many others.
And so Saberi’s arrest is therefore subject to political bargaining.
This is evident by the leaks that indicate that the Iranians are seeking to put pressure on the Americans to exchange Saberi’s release in return for the release of three Iranians held by US forces in Iraq. It is unfortunate that the life and destiny of a human being is at the mercy of political bargaining, and this suggests that the young American woman of Iranian descent is in fact a hostage of the Iranian regime, rather than a prisoner under the provisions of justice.
Cases such as this illustrate the ease with which people’s lives can be used as bargaining chips, and the extent of the isolation that Iranian society experiences at the hands of the Iranian regime, and this is a society that has widespread and extensive foreign communities.
This is an isolation that reminds us of the isolation that the Iraqi people suffered during the Saddam Hussein era.
Countries often try to appeal to its foreign communities to keep up their ties with the motherland, as [these] communities are a source of power, income, and influence, but it seems that in Iran’s case they are seen only as spies or enemies.