For more than a month now, Iran has detained American freelance reporter, Roxana Saberi. The 31-year-old journalist, whose father is Iranian, holds a master's degree from Northwestern University, is an avid soccer player, a talented pianist and a former Miss North Dakota. She had freelanced for National Public Radio and ABC Radio, and once worked for Fox as a producer in Baghdad.
Saberi's Iranian father, who lives in Fargo, N.D., said his daughter called Feb. 10 and told him she was arrested for buying a bottle of wine. He has not heard from her since.
Iran's Foreign Ministry told the ISNA news agency that Saberi had been arrested for "gathering news illegally" because she was working without press credentials. The spokesman for the Foreign Ministry would not say where she was being held.
I have direct experience with the Iranian government's attitudes about "gathering news illegally."
Last September, while on a trip to Tehran with my producer, Ely Brown, and my cameraman, Bartley Price, we were arrested by Iranian police for videotaping officers who were looking for women whose heads were not "properly" covered. Ely and I were both wearing a hijab, and we all had official Iranian press credentials. (I had sent in a picture of myself from a passport shop in the United States. When I picked up my press card in Tehran, the Iranians had "Photoshopped" in a head covering on my press card.)
The police loaded us into a van and had two other police vans escorting us through the city. They took Bart's camera, our press cards, and most disturbing, they took our passports.
We had no idea where we were headed, and neither did our interpreters. When I tried to lighten up the mood in the van by joking with Ely and Bart about all of us being used to being in motorcades, the interpreter warned me not to laugh around the police, or they would think I was making jokes about them.
We drove for close to 45 minutes before we pulled into a police station, and that is when we became worried. A busload of prisoners was just pulling out, faces pressed against the metal-meshed windows shouting for food and cigarettes. Worse yet, the police station we were taken to was "the Anti-Narcotics Division." Ely, Bart and I all had the same thought: "What have they hidden in our bags?"
We sat for hours outside the office of a police official, and then we were brought in one by one to be questioned.
"Why were you arrested?" the officer said to me. I asked him the same question.
I explained that we were downtown taping people in a shopping district and noticed that the police came. Our cameraman started filming the police on patrol. He wrote all of this down, and then made me sign it, which I did not do until the interpreter assured me that is what it said.
At that point the classic "good cop bad cop" scenario started playing out. The "good cop" said his boss would have to see the tape and then we would be freed. But the "bad cop," who was clearly senior, kept telling us we shouldn't have been taping the police, and it was "a problem."
As we sat for hours on a row of hard chairs against a wall, we saw two boys dressed in athletic suits who couldn't have been more than 12 or 13 years old handcuffed together looking frightened. They were taken away.