Roxana Saberi Released From Iranian Prison 'With My Head Held High'

Roxana Saberi talks to Diane Sawyer Friday on "Good Morning America."

ByABC News via logo
May 27, 2009, 2:00 PM

May 28, 2009— -- From playing piano on the prison walls to repeating the "Star Spangled Banner" to keep her spirits up, former Iranian prisoner Roxana Saberi said she got through her nearly three months of confinement by praying to a God she once thought had given up on her.

"I learned many lessons, I learned that, do not fear those who can hurt your body but not your soul. No one can hurt your soul unless you let them," Saberi told ABC News' Diane Sawyer in an interview airing Friday on "Good Morning America." "I also learned that, do what you think is right even if you suffer for it, in the end you will be victorious."

Grateful for her freedom and the international push that helped her get home, Saberi said she left Iran with a heavy conscience knowing all the other women would stay behind -- some for months or years -- with the public never knowing their names.

Housed in solitary confinement for her first two weeks in Evin, Saberi was eventually housed with other women, some who were imprisoned for crimes like speaking out in favor of what many consider to be basic human rights.

"When I was moved into the cells with some of the other women, I saw their strength and they were role models to me and I learned from them," she said. "They inspired me. At one point I told myself, I'm not going to cry anymore until the day I become free, and then I want to cry tears of joy. So I, indeed, made it until I became free, fortunately with the international support that I had."

Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist who had been living in Iran since 2003, was arrested on Jan. 31 while working as a freelance journalist and researching a book on Iran. She was working without press credentials, which were revoked in 2006, and was accused of everything from keeping wine in her home to being a spy.

She was sentenced to eight years in Tehran's Evin prison, a term that was replaced with a two-year suspended sentence after a major international push from the U.S. government, international human rights organizations and media from across the globe.

"I felt that God had abandoned me," Saberi said. "I felt that maybe I did something wrong in my life and I deserved this punishment. I was very afraid and so I gave in to their pressures during those first two weeks."

Saberi, who turned 32 in prison, said that while she was never physically tortured, she was subjected to hours-long interrogation sessions, during which she was blindfolded and bombarded with questions by a group of men who promised her freedom if she confessed to being a spy.

"Since they were making these threats to me -- that I would have to remain in jail if I did not make this confession -- and because nobody knew where I was, I confessed to being a U.S. spy," she said. "I thought I had to do this to be free, but my conscience got the better of me."

What she did next, Saberi said, may have contributed to her eight-year sentence.

"I felt that the God that I had felt before had abandoned me was still with me, but he wasn't pleased with me and so I recanted my confession, knowing full well that it would mean I wouldn't be free," she said. "And indeed the prosecutor was quite angry with me and he sent my case to trial."

Despite the anguish that followed, Saberi said she's glad she stuck by her decision.

"The main thing for me was that whenever I do come out of prison, whether it be tomorrow or eight years from now, that I come out with my head held high," she said, "because I don't want to be freed upon a lie. I want to tell the truth even if it means I have to stay in prison."