"She was spying for America," said the Iranian judiciary official. Now Roxana Saberi, 31, awaits the verdict after a secret one day trial on Monday before the Tehran Revolutionary Court. Her trial was an outrage carried out by an oppressive, paranoid and ruthless regime.
Saberi is an American journalist with a dual American-Iranian citizenship. She was arrested in January after buying a bottle of wine and accused of working without press credentials. She was planning to return to the United States later this year. Saberi had been working for the BBC and NPR until her press credentials were revoked in 2006, but continued doing research for a book and a master's degree. If convicted, Roxana Saberi faces up to ten years in prison.
Private conversations with Iranian citizens reveal deep hatred for the government and its policies. They estimate that 85% of the Iranian people are against their own tyrannical government. But the people are powerless because the Mullahs are ruthless with dissenters. Iran's oppressive Islamic government controls every aspect of life in the country through fear and brutality. A citizen cannot run for elected office unless approved by the government. Only practicing Shiites who support the government are approved for election. Education, business, industry and the military are all tightly controlled by the government. The media, including print, television, radio and the Web, are controlled by the Mullahs and their surrogates.
Government spies are everywhere, so it does not take much to get arrested in Iran, especially if you are a member of the press and have a dual nationality. Iranian journalists pay a high price if they step out of line. The penalty can be jail, beatings, torture or even death. Minority religions are persecuted. Women are treated like second class citizens. Alcohol consumption is illegal. And gays are brutalized. "We don't have any homosexuals," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently said. Human rights groups have estimated that as many as 400 gays have been murdered by the Islamic regime.
The people of Iran live in fear, but Iranians living in other parts of the world have to be careful too, especially if members of their family still live in the country. The Iranian people carry anger and concern with them wherever they are. But their feelings toward America are complicated by, among other issues, its support of Iraq during its 1982 war with Iran, and its support of the Shah of Iran when he was in power.
Meanwhile the Iranian presidential elections will be held this coming June 12; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to be returned to office despite being very unpopular among the people. And simultaneously, the Mullahs are racing to build a nuclear weapon, a device they believe will help secure their leadership in Iran for the long term.
While most Iranians are said to have been encouraged by President Barack Obama's hopeful message, and they embrace Western culture and entertainment, there is still deep distrust for the U.S. government. Iran is certain to be the President's most difficult foreign policy challenge. He must be tough on the government but find a way to build a bridge to the people.
Roxana Saberi is from North Dakota. She is now a pawn in a political game being played by the Iranian government. On the day of her hasty trial her parents visited with her. "We met Roxana today for a few minutes and she is doing well," Reza Saberi, her Iranian-American father, said. "There is always hope but we don't know what will happen."
The same can be said for Iran.