Saberi Case Roils US-Iran Relations, Iranian Politics

Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, just convicted of espionage and sentenced to 8 years in prison, should be afforded every opportunity for a thorough legal defense in her appeal, according to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Saberi’s conviction and sentence are an irritant in the attempt to President Barack Obama to improve relations with Iran, and Ahmadinejad, who is no fool, knows it. Ironically, it was his people who pioneered the technique of jailing Iranian-American bloggers and journalists as a way of getting the goat of the United States without risking military confrontation. That is, they realized that if they “arrested” Americans in Tehran who had no link to Iran, it would be a major international incident. But Iranian-Americans are after all in an ambiguous situation legally, and the US can hardly go to war over Tehran’s jailing of an Iranian national.

It was a technique deployed in 2007 against Haleh Esfandiari of the Wilson Center, who was released in summer of that year. I canceled my own planned trip to Iran at that time over that incident.

Blogger Hossein Derakhshan or “Hoder” is also currently in jail, having been arrested last November on charges of defaming the Shiite holy figures, the Twelve Imams. Derakhshan is considered the father of Iranian blogging (a big phenomenon). Ironically, he has defended Iran from those American neoconservatives who want to attack it and was sued by an associate of the Neoconservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the think tank of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Come on, Tehran. Hoder is a great Iranian and it demeans Iran to jail people for blogging. You can’t have a good reputation in today’s world if you enrage the bloggers against you. And we care deeply about our own.

(In his statement on Sunday, Ahmadinejad also called for the case against Derakhshan to be reviewed).

Pesident Obama has expressed concern about Saberi, and has forcefully denied that she is an American intelligence asset. AP has video:

Ahmadinejad does not want Saberi’s case to derail the current thaw between Washington and Tehran.

It is also likely that Ahmadinejad is worried that the Saberi case will reflect badly on him with Iranian youth and women, who in past years swung toward reformist candidates pledging greater personal liberties. Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s rival, has now taken up that mantle, and he could benefit from a backlash in the Iranian public over the Saberi case.

One opinion poll showed Ahmadinejad trailing Mousavi among workers.

The bizarre and implausible character of the Iranian government’s case against Saberi can be seen in this defense of it, broadcast on the “Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 2,” Wednesday, April 8, 2009, translated by the USG Open Source Center:

Sohrab Heydarifard said: “She has been travelling to Iran since approximately six years ago. She has been travelling under the cover of a correspondent without having a permit as one. She had claimed that apart from Iranian nationality she also has American nationality.

“In the course of the investigations made, it became clear that she only has Iranian nationality and, so far, her American citizenship is not definite.

“The charge against her is one of espionage; this accused has been coming and going to certain government circles under the cover of a correspondent and without a permit (to do so). And, through the contacts that she has made with certain employees of these government organizations she has perpetrated actions to compile and gather information and documents and transferred them to American intelligence services.

I mean, this sounds like a Stalinist show trial. And, by the way, Sohrab you prick, I doubt you can be Miss North Dakota unless you have American citizenship.

PS: In the AP clip from YouTube above, there are “contextual” Google ads. I apologize about these, and please just turn them off at the ‘x.’ One is for ‘sexy Iranian photos’, which given the AP subject matter is in the worst possible taste. Google ads needs to fix this sort of problem if they are to be taken seriously.

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