Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP
Akiko Saberi, the Japanese mother of imprisoned Iranian-American journalist Roxana
Saberi, holds her daughter's photo in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday, April 25.

American Journalist on Hunger Strike in Iranian Jail

April 28, 2009 04:58 PM
by Kate Davey
Roxana Saberi has been sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison; she says she will remain on a hunger strike until she is freed.

“Roxana Is Very Weak and Pale”

Journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested in Iran in January. At first, she was accused of lacking press credentials, but was later charged with espionage. After a one-day, closed-door trial, she was found guilty of espionage on April 18, and given an eight-year sentence. Saberi was born and raised in Fargo, N.D.; she has dual American-Iranian citizenship through her father, who was born in Iran.

She began a hunger strike last week telling her father she will not eat until she is released. Her parents, who visited her in prison on Sunday, April 26 (her 32nd birthday), are worried about her health. Her father, Reza Saberi, told the Associated Press, “Roxana is very weak and pale. She has been on a hunger strike for a week now. She is only drinking sweetened water to remain alive.”

Her lawyer has appealed her conviction, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad requested that Saberi be given the chance to defend herself. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi has also told the court in a letter that he supports an appeal: “Fair examination of the case at every stage and especially at the appeal stage is the defendant’s right.”

Many members of the international community, including the EU, have objected to Saberi’s conviction. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has requested Saberi’s release from prison, telling Washington reporters that Saberi “has been subjected to a process that has been nontransparent, unpredictable, arbitrary.

While Saberi’s case is currently the most well known, she is certainly not alone.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as of December 2008, 125 journalists from around the world remained imprisoned; five of those imprisoned were in Iran. The organization also points to online groups that have been created in support of freeing Saberi, including Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

Background: Hunger strike used as tactic by prisoners

Saberi joins a long list of people who have used a hunger strike to show resistance to jail sentences.

In 2006, Akbar Ganji was released from an Iranian prison; he had been detained for five years after writing articles that linked Iranian officials to murder.  During his imprisonment, he went on a hunger strike that almost killed him.

One of the most famous hunger strikes is the 1981 hunger strike by Irish Republican Army leader Bobby Sands and other imprisoned IRA members; their intention was “to achieve the reintroduction of political status for Republican prisoners.” During his imprisonment, Sands was elected as the Fermanagh /South Tyrone Member of Parliament. Before the hunger strike ended, 10 prisoners, including Sands, had died. As a result of the hunger strike, the IRA gained a great deal of sympathy and support both at home and abroad.

The 2009 film “Hunger” chronicles Sands’ hunger strike, “recreating the brutal conditions in which that decision was made and the harrowing physical decline that followed.”

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