WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced “great concerns” on Thursday over the health of jailed Iranian-American reporter Roxana Saberi who she said was on a hunger strike and must be freed by Iran.
Iran has denied that Saberi, 32, is on a hunger strike and says she is in good health in a Tehran prison, where she is being held on charges of spying for the United States. “She is extremely unhappy and quite rebellious about being held in such a horrible situation and is on a hunger strike,” Clinton told lawmakers, urging Iran to immediately release the reporter. “We have great concerns about Ms Saberi’s health and well being,” Clinton added.
The United States, which has sought engagement with Iran on a range of issues, has dismissed the charges against Saberi as baseless and without foundation.
Clinton raised questions over Iran’s legal process and said it was a nation that appeared “impervious” to human rights concerns and “civilized standards.” “She has arbitrarily been in our view held without any kind of transparency or process. We have called on the Iranian government, both directly and through other emissaries, to release her,” Clinton told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Clinton said Saberi’s parents had been in Iran for several weeks, urging the release of their daughter who has reported for the British Broadcasting Corporation as well as the U.S. National Public Radio.
“We have reached out and are continuing to reach out through every channel we know of — public and private,” she said. But so far, Clinton said there were “mixed messages” coming from Iran over whether to free Saberi, a citizen of both the United States and Iran who was arrested in late January. “They are going to let her out, they are going to let her out in two months. They are going to sentence her to eight years, they are going to do an appeal. I think it shows you how difficult it is to deal with this government in Iran,” she said of the responses coming from Iran over Saberi.
The case could complicate Washington’s efforts towards reconciliation with Iran after three decades of mutual mistrust.
U.S. President Barack Obama has offered a new beginning of engagement if Iran “unclenches its fist” but so far these efforts have not born fruit.
Last month, while at a conference in the Hague, Clinton’s delegation handed over a letter to the Iranians urging Saberi’s release and seeking information on two other Americans, including a former FBI agent missing in Iran for the the past two years.
Iran has not yet responded to that letter, which was a rare diplomatic exchange between the two nations. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran as the two countries do not have diplomatic ties.