Iran Admits to Detaining U.S. Journalist

An American-born journalist is imprisoned in Iran as family waits in N. Dakota.

March 3, 2009, 7:00 AM

LONDON, March 3, 2009— -- The Iranian government publicly confirmed today the arrest and detainment of American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, 31, who has been missing for nearly a month.

"She did not have accreditation to work as a journalist in Iran," a government representative said.

Judiciary spokesman, Ali Reza Jamshidi, said: "I do not know yet what her charges are exactly... I know that she is in detention upon the bill of indictment issued by the Revolutionary Court."

Roxana Saberi's father, Reza Saberi of Fargo, N.D., has lost contact with his North Dakota-born daughter but is working on her release.

"We are trying to get you free. It's time to come home," he said.

Roxana Saberi has lived and worked in Iran for six years, reporting as a freelance journalist for various news outlets, such as National Public Radio. Her journalist accreditation was withdrawn twice, the last time in 2006, after which she did not get it back. She told ABC News at the time that she did not know the reason for the withdrawal of her accreditation.

Roxana Saberi called her father from Iran Feb. 10 and told him she had been arrested for buying a bottle of wine. Alcohol is prohibited in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The salesman reportedly informed the police and they detained her.

But her Iranian-born father, who has not heard from her since, does not believe the story. "We [were] informed about the purchase of alcohol in Iran and they told us that you do not get arrested for it, just fined," he told ABC News.

Roxana Saberi is being held in Evin prison, the customary place of detainment for political prisoners.

"At this point, we are supported by Sens. [Kent] Conrad and [Byron] Dorgan of North Dakota, who are trying, together with the State Department, to get her free," Reza Saberi told ABC News, adding that the Iranian government has no legitimate reason to detain his daughter.

"We know she hasn't been working as a journalist for the past two years in Iran," he said.

He said she has worked on a book about the culture of Iran and intended to return to the United States in two months to finish it.

In Iran, Roxana Saberi Is an Iranian

As a U.S.-born journalist, Roxana Saberi is a dual national because of her father's Iranian background. Because she would have used her Iranian passport to enter the country, she is considered an Iranian citizen, not American, during her stay.

Her colleagues and friends in Iran declined to comment publicly on her disappearance because of the uncertainty of her situation. It is common for Iran to keep tabs on foreign journalists, and it is illegal to work without an accreditation, which has to be renewed every year. There are 15 official U.S. media representatives in Iran.

Roxana Saberi grew up in Fargo, where her family still resides. She graduated from Concordia College and was named Miss North Dakota in 1997. Her father was born in Iran and her mother grew up in Japan.

An official of the Committee to Protect Journalists today said, "We are concerned for the safety of our colleague Roxana Saberi, who has been held incommunicado in Iran. ... The authorities have not charged her with any crime, therefore, they should release her immediately."

National Public Radio, one of Roxana Saberi's freelance employers, today said it is "very concerned about Roxana Saberi's arrest. We have asked the State Department to inquire into the status of her detention and to take steps to assure her immediate release."

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