29 May 2009

Roxana Saberi at VOA

Poised and thoughtful, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi came to VOA this past week for her first and only Farsi-language interview since returning to the United States after being detained in Iran.

In the interview with VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN), Saberi says she was accused of spying and admits she confessed. But she says it was a forced confession while she was under what she calls “extreme psychological pressure.” She says because she was a journalist and was working on a book, Iranian authorities were suspicious of her:

"From the outset, I was charged with being ‘threat to national security’, which, as you know, its definition in Iran can be very extensive. Maybe even what viewers are doing, watching your show [VOA’s PNN] via satellite, fits one of those definitions and they too are a threat to national security. Since I’m a dual citizen, American and Iranian, and was a journalist and was working on a book, they were suspicious of me. I wanted to write a book about Iran’s society and depict the positive aspect of Iran, that Iranians have a rich history and culture. This was for foreigners, but those who interrogated me at the beginning said to me that ‘you are a spy.’ I want to say that most people know that I’m not a spy, but for those who don’t know, I want to say that I am not a spy, never was and never will be."

The 32-year old journalist spent nearly four months in a jail in Tehran. But an Iranian court ordered her release following an international outcry.

She says despite her ordeal, she hopes to return to Iran:

“I went to Iran 6 years ago. I didn’t speak Farsi and wanted to learn it. My father is Iranian and I wanted to see my Iranian homeland and I wanted to do some work there. I had not intended to stay that long, but it proved so attractive to me that I decided to stay. I realized what a beautiful culture, what hospitable and kind people Iranians are. I was so excited in Iran that every time I traveled overseas, I missed the country and wanted to return as soon as possible… I would definitely love to return to Iran someday.”

Stories about the Saberi interview are on VOANews.com, including a full transcript translated into English

04 May 2009

Bad for Bloggers, Bad for Press Freedom

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released a report identifying what it calls the “10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger.” CPJ puts Burma in first place because it has “a military government that severely restricts Internet access and imprisons people for years for posting critical material.”

CPJ goes on to call Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Egypt the leading online oppressors in the Middle East and North Africa, while it pegs China and Vietnam as Asia’s worst blogging nations. Cuba and Turkmenistan round out the CPJ list.

The CPJ report coincides with World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd. Last year CPJ reported that bloggers and other online journalists were the single largest professional group in prison, overtaking print and broadcast journalists for the first time.

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon says: “The governments on the list are trying to roll back the information revolution, and, for now, they are having success. Freedom of expression groups, concerned governments, the online community, and technology companies need to come together to defend the rights of bloggers around the world.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists report comes as the New York Times carries a fascinating report about how unusual alliances have been forged to help people worldwide use technology to try to defeat government efforts to censor what they can read online.

The report by John Markoff notes, for example, that Iranian Internet users last year began circumventing government censorship by using a freely-downloaded computer program created by Chinese computer experts with the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which has been suppressed by the Chinese government.

As Markoff reports: “a disparate alliance of political and religious activists, civil libertarians, Internet entrepreneurs, diplomats and even military officers and intelligence agents are now challenging growing Internet censorship.”

The article notes the Voice of America has financed some circumvention technology efforts. With a growing audience online, especially in countries where authorities try to censor the news, it is in VOA’s interests to support what is, after all, considered a fundamental human right: that everyone has the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.