Roxana Saberi… (UPDATE)

Ok, so I’ll weigh in on the Roxana Saberi issue as it’s basically slapping me in the face this week. Especially after reading this editorial letter from the NY Times today.

This is a terrible situation, but nothing new. This letter, along with many other articles this week, makes good points and has interesting speculations. They have all been quite similar basically saying:

-The IRI is good at this, and dangerous

-Saberi has done nothing wrong, and the secrecy is unjust

-Perhaps Iran wants a prisoner swap

-Perhaps the IRI has hardline elements trying to sabotage US-Iranian bilateral relations

-Saberi has dual citizenship, Iranian and American

-This will negatively impact rapprochement

I believe that these speculations are not nuanced enough though, and focus on some things, that to the regime, are moot. I will try to provide more inside information.

Saberi has done nothing wrong, and the secrecy is unjust

Ok, well, it is true that Saberi probably has done nothing wrong. But whether we believe IRI courts to be legitimate or not, IRI laws hold espionage as a very serious crime. Unfortunately looking though IRI civil laws one cannot actually find a definition for espionage of course (keep it vague). But the law states that if a person is charged with helping any group that is “opposed to the IRI” there is a minimum of 3 months to 1 yr (Not to mention the sentences for death, etc.)

So, the Revolutionary Courts proceed secretly. When you are on trial for these charges, you or your lawyer have no access to your file. The judgments are made in secret by the judge (hakem-e shar’) who is supposed to be your neutral arbiter even though he is appointed by the state.

Unfortunately, this situation is not just something secretive for this particular instance, but something that is part of legitimate IRI law. Therefore it is harder to interfere in. In fact, the IRI complains that the US gets involved in IRI affairs too much already. This is the perfect opportunity for them to prove they conduct their affairs in their best interest, ‘stay out!’.

Perhaps Iran wants a prisoner swap

I don’t believe Iran will use her for a prisoner swap. While they have consistently demanded the US release captured Iranian “diplomats” in Sulamaynia, Iraq, Saberi is not the same case. I believe they are only holding on to her and dragging this in an attempt to figure out what they actually want to do with her: They just don’t know how to manipulate the situation yet.

Perhaps the IRI has hardline elements trying to sabotage US-Iranian bilateral relations

It is apparent to me that Khamenei seems interested in at least discussions with the US on the bigger issues. If he had judiciary elements (an area of the government the Supreme Leader controls) usurping his internal decisions he would come down hard. This is nothing extra-ordinary, therefore the theory that possible dissident hardliners is weak to me.

Personally, I think they’ll release her as a gesture of good faith before any talks with the US to try and show the world that the IRI is ethical and cares about the West’s interests enough to come to accord.

Saberi has dual citizenship, Iranian and American

According to IRI law, Saberi does not have dual citizenship. The IRI has always turned a blind eye to its citizens having dual citizenship, but if you hold an Iranian passport you are Iranian and subject only to Iranian law. I’ve heard of border guards through the years telling inbound dual citizenship holders to put their US passports away, purposefully ignoring them to keep the line moving and prevent unnecessary trouble.

If one wants to be an official foreign citizen in the IRI’s eyes, one must renounce his/her Iranian citizenship through a very long, complicated process of documentation, official review, etc., and officially puts one on a ‘black list’ as potential foreign dissidents of course.

Additionally, it’s easier to travel to Iran as an Iranian of course. As an American one must apply for visas through the interest desk at the Pakistani embassy. This is a long process that doesn’t even guarantee success.

These are some of the factors that keep Iranian diaspora from trying to renounce IRI citizenship. Of course there are others, more personal, but these technical issues will keep even the most ardent anti-IRI Americans from fully disconnecting from the IRI.

The point is, the IRI takes advantage of this in cases like Saberi, or others. To them, they are IRI citizens and are to be subject, not to foreign consular relations, etc., but to IRI law.

This will negatively impact rapprochement

I don’t actually think that this affects rapprochement too much. In fact, when you look at US dealings you see it does what is in its best interest. Look at our interaction with China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, etc. We have decided to forgo regime change regarding Iran, and while Saberi may be a talking point, the administration will not allow this issue to derail the tiny, but sweet, progress they’ve made.

The US does what is in its best interest, and right now this administration feels that détente with the IRI is the correct goal right now. Unfortunately, while I agree, it is as the detrimat of all anti-regime groups and human rights in Iran. But I think those issues will be on the table later. Strategic interest first.

As long as Saberi continues to be treated like she is now, with visits, books, exercise, tv, etc. the US won’t take a huge international stand on this. Of course she is still in Evin Prison, so it’s not great, but because of the high profile and the political moment, she gets the good treatment. Her father mentioned on NPR last week that he brought her Gandhi’s biography to read. This is not characteristic of IRI prisoner treatment…

Unfortunately, I believe that when Mrs. Clinton spoke up so loudly on the issue, the IRI only hardened on it. This is the moment they realized that Saberi could gain them some leverage on something. They just have yet to figure it out.

I do hope for her continued safety, and I hope her family is ok. It makes me think of all the political prisoners in Iran, imprisoned or executed for trumped up charges. Thankfully relations are thawing out slightly which I believe keeps her safer than her predecessors.


So maybe I am off a bit. It seems that this could put a damper on US-Iran bilateral relations. I don’t think I am wrong that it is some hardline inside plot, but the attention this is getting in all the press, including Iran’s, makes this huge. Of course, Ahmadinejad’s letter is probably just election fodder. Or a move that, when they decide to let her go as a good-will gesture, will put the spotlight on Ahmadinejad.

Some Iranian news sources are complaining about a few things: he is overreaching beyond the principles of seperation of power, he is only electioneering, and why only this case does he show concern for, and not the many others. I think she’ll be ok still, but I do feel for her family and their fear. Also, internationally, I  have concern that this just muddies the waters at an inappropriate time for Iran.


~ by The Common Man on April 17, 2009.

One Response to “Roxana Saberi… (UPDATE)”

  1. […] is certainly correct to be worried about Saberi’s safety, and to make points that Saberi is a pawn in this ‘Great Game’ between the US and the […]

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