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Reaction to Roxana's release

14 May 2009 16:35No Comments

AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian

From Tehran

News of the release of Roxana Saberi, "the convicted spy arrested while buying an illicit alcoholic beverage," hit me like a hammer on the head. Don't get me wrong. Roxana Saberi is a colleague and I am ecstatic that she is back home with her family. My criticism is with those who arrest someone one day, charge her with espionage, sentence her to eight years in prison -- and then let her off the hook the next day.

The question is who accused Roxana of espionage? Was the charge investigated in a thorough, fair and legal manner? It was even said that Roxana confessed to being a spy. So, what happened? God forbid, did America intimidate us into releasing a convicted spy? Maybe there was a behind-the-scenes deal that we don't know about? Could it be that the Iranian operatives jailed by America in Iraq were released in exchange for Roxana?

Or perhaps a month before Election Day, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's intervention on behalf of Roxana did the trick. He may even personally go to the airport to bid her farewell with his famous, "Thank You," the same one he used when Iran released the 15 "invading" British sailors and marines a couple of years ago.

Griping aside, the real question is what happened to the product of hours and hours of questioning and interrogation of Roxana by the "specialists"? If she was a spy, why was she let go? If she was not, why was she sentenced to eight years in prison in the first place? Have you ever heard of an appellate court anywhere in the world that totally reverses the original court's verdict? The appellate courts I'm familiar with commute or reduce sentences -- at best.

Where are all those who cried out to the world "We caught a spy"?

How much does this repeated, artificial and self-made crisis-making cost the Iranian nation? How much more of our prestige and reputation can we afford to squander away with such episodes and misadventures? To what extent were our national interests jeopardized? How ashamed and humiliated must Iranians feel by all this? How much did our nation's adversaries benefit from this self-inflicted wound? Who is going to answer to the public? What was the real story behind this?

If Roxana didn't have a press permit, she should have been deported. What was the deal with the spy allegation, conviction and eight-year sentence? How on earth can a spy be released?

These are all legitimate questions that I know will never be satisfactorily answered. In all likelihood, they will be swept under the rug.

Unfortunately, those in power, who I'm sure are very patriotic, don't know anything about journalism and how journalists go about doing their job. This lack of knowledge and understanding about media and the press leads to fear, suspicion, mistrust and paranoia among them. They need to acquaint themselves with the basics of journalism; they need to start learning about foreign cultures, acquiring new languages and gaining an understanding of how things work in other parts of the world. The dependence of our ruling establishment on translators and translated texts in order to find out what is going on stokes this paranoia as well.

This is my interpretation of some of the problems in Iran during the past few years. It isn't and shouldn't be interpreted as guidance or advice. I'm really thankful I've never been in a decision-making position, nor have had to make a decision that affects a person's life, livelihood or freedom. I'm relieved to have never been in a position to draw the anger and wrath of someone because of a judgment I made.

And now finally, to my dear compatriot and colleague, Roxana: I don't have the first clue what happened to you in the last few months nor how much you have suffered. But I want to ask you in all humility to try to forget what was done to you. We, your fellow citizens, don't want or need another angry and bitter compatriot. May you be happy and prosper.

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By HENRY PRECHT in Bethesda, Maryland

Critics of the Iranian system of justice (sic) obviously have a large argument on their side. But, if we step back a bit and look across the region, we might conclude that there is something foul in the water supply in all the court houses. It's not just Iran where standards of fair and open treatment and the rule of law are neglected. Name a country - including Israel and the U.S. - that does not compete for the honor of unjust (at least for classes of persons they don't care for). Perhaps, when permitted, the Egyptian judiciary and, on occasion some Israeli and U.S. judges, qualify for independent and fair. Yet we rarely hear criticism of non-Iranian systemic failures. Anyone read anything about those Iranian consular officers locked up in Iraq? Or possible prosecution of branded MEK terrorists warehoused there?

Our scorn for revolutionary justice may, in part, prevail because the Iranians lack PR personnel in their courts. American courts go to great lengths to demonstrate the wisdom of their decisions - however dubious they might seen to an objective observer. If the Libyan Lockerbie bomber had been convicted in an Iranian court, few here would have accepted the evidence as convincing. In general, Iranians or foreigners on trial for political offenses are judged by outsiders to be innocent after being found guilty (which they may well be), while American and Israeli victims are deemed guilty until found innocent.

When a decision on a sensitive case like Roxana's is rendered, some observers immediately conclude that - depending on the direction - hard or soft liners have influenced the outcome for political reasons. In her case experts describe an ideological tug of war without providing details. No one suggests that maybe a judge thinking for himself had reached the conclusion on the basis of a classified document found in her possession. We won't be able be make that determination until we hear how and why the court reached its verdict. Ahmadinejad asked the appeals court to be fair. He might also have requested a measure of openness.

Pretty plainly, Roxana was released because (1) the point was made that Iran can catch spies and won't be trifled with and (2) holding her would impair Iran's standing with western powers with which it must negotiate and Japan (from whence her mother hails) with which Iran desires beneficial relations.

Henry Precht is a veteran diplomat now retired from the Foreign Service. He joined the U.S. State Department in 1961 and was a political officer in the American Embassy in Tehran from 1972 to 1976. In June of 1978, he took over the Iran Desk at the State Department as the Director of Iranian Affairs.

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