Last year, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Sebari was arrested in Iran for bringing a bottle of wine into the country. Sebari, who has dual citizenship with Iran and the United States had been living in Iran since 2003 as a freelance journalist for NPR and the BBC. While detained, her charges had been elevated to reporting without a license and espionage for the United State government.
While the Iranian government has arrested foreign reporters in the past, most of them had been deported to their home country. Ms. Sebari, on the other hand, stood trial. She was found guilty of spying and was sentenced to eight years in prison. The United States government immediately called for the release of Ms. Sebari, insisting that she has never worked for the government in any form, especially as a spy. After her trial in January, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad filed for an appeal–a move unheard of in modern Iranian history.
The appeals court rejected the initial sentence of eight years and called for the immediate deportation of Ms. Saberi. On Monday, she was released from jail to the custody of her parents and will return home to the United States this week.
Analysts say this is an important milestone in Iranian/American relations. President Ahmedinejad is up for re-election next month and his hard line rhetoric of his early administration has fallen away in response to falling approval ratings. The Iranian president has made many gestures to normalize relations with the American government. His election-night call to President Obama was the first call of congratulations an American president has received from Iran since the revolution of the 1970’s. The United States has continued to welcome Iran as a partner in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their continued participation has helped us stay an accountable partner in the region.
We, at the UUA, applaud the release of Ms. Saberi. We also encourage increased diplomatic negotiations with the Iranian government. We believe the United States can be a good model of religious freedom and tolerance to the Iranian government and they, in turn, can be important allies in ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We hope the US State Department and Iranian Supreme Council will continue to work toward normalized relations.