The spying conviction of U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi last week by a court in Tehran is just the latest sign that Iran’s ruling clerics are trying to test the resolve of President Obama by taking U.S. citizens hostage, Iran analysts and exiles tell Newsmax.
Roxana Saberi, a natural-born U.S. citizen who has worked as a freelance journalist in Iran for National Public Radio and other U.S. news organizations for the past six years, was convicted over the weekend in Tehran after a closed-door trial that lasted just one day.
Her lawyer, Abdul-Samad Khorramshahi, told reporters after her trial that he still was unsure of all the charges and evidence against her. “I have not read her file, so I cannot confirm” that she made a confession of spying on behalf of the United States, as the government claimed.
President Obama said he was “gravely concerned” with the 31-year old freelance journalist’s fate, and was “deeply disappointed” with the actions of the Islamic regime in Tehran.
“Saying you are ‘deeply disappointed’ is just sending the wrong message to the mullahs,” said Iranian dissident Sardar Haddad, who lives in Texas. “This is just the latest chapter in a history of hostage-taking by the regime.”
Iranian Foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi appeared to agree with Haddad’s assessment.
In his weekly press briefing on Monday in Tehran, Qashqavi said that Saberi could file an appeal, then he expressed concern over the fate and alleged mistreatment of five Iranian “diplomats” arrested by U.S. forces in northern Iraq in on Jan. 11, 2007.
He claimed that the continued detention of the “diplomats” violated international law. But he insisted that his government rejected any connection between the arrest of Roxana Saberi and the detention of the Iranian Quds force officers in Iraq.
In announcing the arrest of the Iranians in Erbil, the U.S. military said that all five were “connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – Quds Force, an organization known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the Government of Iraq and attack Coalition forces.”
According to press reports, among those detained was the third most senior officer in the Quds force, identified as Colonel Hashemi-Far.
Major Neal V. Fisher II, a spokesman for the Multinational Force-Iraq, told Newsmax on Thursday that “currently there are 15 detainees in our custody that claim to be Iranian citizens,” but he declined to comment on Iranian government efforts to get them released.
Born in New Jersey to an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, Roxana Saberi is a former Miss North Dakota and the fourth Iranian-American to have been convicted recently by the Iranian government jails on espionage-related charges.
Two Iranian-American AIDS researchers, Doctors Arash and Kamiar Alaei, were arrested last year and sentenced to six and three years respectively on accusations they were involved in a U.S-funded plot to overthrow the regime.
Also being held by the regime is education worker Silva Harotonian, who went to Iran on contract for the Washington-based International Research and Exchanges Board in June 2008 to brief participants in a maternal child health education and exchange program.
The regime accused her of advocating a “velvet revolution” in Iran, allegedly funded by the U.S. government.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation continues to seek the release of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in March 2007 while on a visit to Kish Island, a free trade zone in the Persian Gulf controlled by Iran.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Iran “could be helpful” in arranging Levinson’s release if the United States treated Iran with more respect.
U.S. citizen Haleh Esfandiareh, a researcher for the Woodrow Wilson International Center, was released in August 2007 after more than 100 days in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Her release closely followed a personal appeal sent by Wilson Center president, Lee Hamilton, to Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the president’s words on Sunday, saying she was “deeply disappointed” by Roxana Saberi’s sentencing. “We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government,” she said.
On Monday, Clinton was more forceful, saying that Saberi “should be freed immediately” and that “the charges against her are baseless.”
“The regime in Tehran is trying to test the new U.S. government,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, a dissident who helped lead the student uprising in Tehran in 1999 and now lives in California.
“They continue to attack U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and to defy the international community on their nuclear program. They take U.S. citizens hostage, and in response, they see that Obama is still pressing for engagement. Why should they retreat, when they see how Obama is responding?”
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