Jailed Iranian-American Journalist's Father Is Losing Hope

PHOTO The father of Saberi, Reza Saberi, said he does not hold out much hope that his daughter will be released from an Iranian prison anytime soon.AP Photo/Reuters
US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi is shown in Bam, 1,250 km (776 miles) southeast of Tehran, in this March 31, 2004 file photo. The American journalist convicted of spying in Iran has gone on a hunger strike to protest her imprisonment, her father, Reza Saberi, shown in this file photo, inset, said Saturday.

The father of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi said he does not hold out much hope that his daughter will be released from an Iranian prison anytime soon.

"I have some hope but not much," Reza Saberi said in a telephone interview with ABC's Kate Snow on "Good Morning America Weekend" Sunday morning from Tehran.

Saberi said he had last seen his daughter last Tuesday for about 20 minutes at the Evin prison where she has been held since Jan. 31.

VIDEO: Jailed Journalist in IranPlay

"She was very weak and frail. The prison environment is very harsh on her. She cannot stand too much imprisonment," Saberi said.

The family is also worried that their daughter might try to stage a hunger strike in an effort to secure her release.

"We are quite worried about it," Saberi said. "As she is now, she is very frail. There is no muscle. She's bones and skinny. Very very thin and frail. If she goes on hunger strike, we are pretty sure she will not survive. She will not survive for long and her health will be complete damaged. We are encouraging her to not do that. But under those circumstances, she is so depressed and frustrated by the legal process system here that she doesn't know what to do. She thinks that's the only way out."

The prison cell where Saberi is being held is a small primitive room, according to her father. There are two other individuals in the cell as well, and they must ring a bell when they need to use restroom facilities.

On Saturday an Iranian court sentenced Roxana Saberi to eight years in prison on charges of espionage. Reza Saberi said he was shocked and disappointed by the sentence.

He said his daughter has denied all of the allegations of espionage and did so in front of lawyers and in the courtroom. But the Iranian-American journalist apparently did confess to spying in an earlier statement, which she has since tried to take back.

"Well the details I don't know. ... She has denied all the charges and if she has said before anything under pressure, under pressure or somehow they used some tactic to get her to say those things that she has said," Saberi said.

Saberi said no physical force was ever used to extract a confession but he believes his daughter was coerced.

"She told me there was no physical [force] but interrogations in order to get confessions. [As] in all political prisons, they've probably used that kind of tactic there," he said.

Iranian authorities are allowing the Saberis to visit their daughter once a week, Saberi said. In the past, Saberi has said he will remain in Iran until his daughter is freed. But today he said he was unsure how long he would be able to maintain his vigil, perhaps not for eight long years.

Roxana Saberi was first arrested in January and charged with buying wine, which is illegal in Iran. Later she was charged with reporting without the proper press credentials. Saberi has served as a freelance journalist for ABC News, NPR and the BBC, among other news organizations.

The Saberis believe that this entire case is bigger than just their daughter.

The Obama administration has recently reached out to Iran in an effort to build better relations with Tehran, offering a dialogue on nuclear proliferation.

Iranian analysts believe Iranian hardliners may be using Roxana's situation to send a message to the new American administration.

"If you talk to Iranian officials, they themselves don't even believe the charges leveled against her. But she's a pawn in this game they're trying to play, vis-à-vis the United States," said Karim Sadjapour, an Iran scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"I don't know what kind of game they're playing, or what kind of politics they're using," said Reza Saberi in the phone interview. "There certainly must be something more than Roxana's working without a permit or buying a bottle of wine or spying. These charges that have varied these last two months. There must be a bigger story than what appears to be."