Freed journalist Roxana Saberi tells of fearful jail time in Iran

An American journalist jailed in Iran for more than three months says she was under "severe psychological and mental pressure" and made a false confession hoping it would help her win freedom.

In her first interview since she was released from Tehran's Evin prison on May 11, Roxana Saberi, 32, told National Public Radio News that her Iranian interrogators pressured her to say she was a spy.

"I was very afraid," she said in the interview, which aired Thursday. "My interrogators threatened me and said, 'If you don't confess to being a U.S. spy, you could be here for many years … you could even face execution."

Saberi had worked as a freelance journalist in Iran since 2003, filing stories for NPR, British Broadcasting Corp. and other news outlets. The former Miss North Dakota grew up in Fargo and has Iranian citizenship through her father.

Saberi, who was sentenced to eight years before her term was reduced, said she was kept in solitary confinement at times and was not tortured. Other details:

• In her first call to her parents from prison, Saberi said she was told to tell her father she had been arrested on Jan. 31 for buying a bottle of wine, which was not true, she said.

• Iranian officials accused her of having a classified document. Saberi said she didn't think the document was classified but said she shouldn't have copied it while working for an Iranian "governmental think tank," the Center for Strategic Research.

She wanted the document for "historical perspective" and said "it didn't contain any information that had not been stated publicly."

• Saberi said she was put in a cell with political prisoners.

" Many of those women were there because they are standing up for human rights or the freedom of belief or expression. … They're not willing to give in to pressures to make false confessions or to sign off to commitments not to take part in their activities once they're released. They would rather stay in prison and stand up for those principles that they believe in."

She shared a cell with Silva Harotonian, an Iranian employee of the U.S.-based non-profit International Research & Exchanges Board. She was arrested in June 2008 and sentenced to three years for trying to instigate a "soft revolution."

"What happened to Roxana is happening every day to many political prisoners," said Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

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