Medill alumna arrested in Iran

A team breaking news story on the arrest of Roxana Saberi in Iran, published on North by Northwestern in March 2009.

Roxana Saberi, a freelance journalist who graduated from Northwestern in 1999, was arrested by Iranian authorities and has been detained for about a month, according to an e-mail sent by Dean John Lavine to the Medill community.

“We have been in touch with a lot of people…people in Iran, people in diplomatic positions,” said Medill professor Jack Doppelt, who met Saberi 10 years ago when she was a master’s student in his legal studies class.

As the former head of Medill’s Global Journalism program, Doppelt has kept in touch with Saberi over the years as she came from working in Iran to give lectures for the Medill program in Paris.

According to an AFP news brief, the charges against Saberi by the Iranian revolutionary court remain unclear. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman has said that Saberi was working illegally in the country. Saberi’s father disagreed, saying that his daughter told him on Feb. 10 that she was arrested for purchasing alcohol, which is prohibited in the country.

The United States has asked Switzerland, which represents American interests in the Islamic Republic, to put pressure on Iran to get more details on Saberi’s detention.

“This is totally uncharted territory,” Doppelt explained. “We’ve never had [a situation with] Iran in this particular moment in history, which is a combination of the new Obama administration and [Iran’s] election.”

“It could conceivably produce a more receptive Iran, so maybe getting the word out in the right way will have them reconsider why [they] arrested Roxana and have them release her.” Doppelt said.

A Committee to Protect Journalists petition to support Saberi is currently on Facebook.

“They put together a petition that is carefully worded in that it’s appealing to [Iranian] President Ahmadinejad to intervene, to look into the situation and to release Roxana,” Doppelt said. “Please sign the petition if you want to, because it’s a good thing to do.”

About six years ago, Medill alumna Ruth Morris was held captive by Marxist rebels while doing freelance writing for the Los Angeles Times in Colombia. She and her fellow captive were freed, relatively unharmed, after 11 days.

As journalism students follow Saberi’s story, Doppelt said they should take away two things: “One is to continue to have the desire to go out into the world and do work that is meaningful and important; and to temper that with caution, if you are in places that have different cultural norms — but to keep doing this work.”

According to Doppelt, the university plans to play a vigil for Saberi on the plasma screens in the lobby of the McCormick Tribune Center. The Powerpoint presentation will “inform people of the situation, show people her work so they can appreciate the quality — that she really is a special journalist,” Doppelt said.

“I don’t know if this is a lesson, but it is Medill’s message to let students know that we are with you for life,” Doppelt said. “It’s not just a four-year journey and then you’re off on your own. We are with you for life. And we mean that.”

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