Sunday, April 19, 2009

Expert, delegation hopeful for Saberi’s release

Sherri Richards

An expert on Iran said Saturday that given the harsh sentence American journalist Roxana Saberi received, it’s possible the Iranian government may grant clemency as an act of generosity.

“That’s something that’s not unknown,” said William O. Beeman, an anthropology professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied Iran for 30 years.

“Put someone in dire straits and then grant them clemency, and the person is grateful,” Beeman said.

North Dakota’s congressional delegation reacted with dismay to news of Saberi’s conviction in an Iranian court.

In separate statements, they said they would continue to work with the U.S. State Department to bring Saberi home.

Sen. Byron Dorgan called the verdict a “shocking miscarriage of justice.”

“The Iranian government has held a secret trial, will not make public any evidence, and sentenced an American citizen to eight years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit,” Dorgan said in his statement. “I call on the Iranian government to show compassion and release Roxana Saberi and allow her to leave Iran and come home to the United States.”

Sen. Kent Conrad called the ruling “preposterous,” and said, “Iran is doing enormous damage to their creditability on the world stage with behavior like this.”

Rep. Earl Pomeroy described Saberi as a “fine young woman of intelligence and integrity,” and hoped she would be allowed to return to the United States as a humanitarian consideration.

Beeman said it’s possible Saberi will not be immediately incarcerated, released on bail, and be allowed to leave the country.

“I think that we’re not completely without hope in this situation,” Beeman said.

He said the harsh rhetoric against the Iranian system that the sentence will spur is going to be counterproductive, and that Saberi’s situation is an opportunity to continue toward better relations between the U.S. and Iran.

He hopes Saberi will not be incarcerated, for any amount of time.

“I think everyone, internationally and those people looking at this case in Iran, knows the charges are groundless. This (incarceration) would really set back U.S.-Iranian relations,” he said.

Locally, the president of Saberi’s alma mater expressed her distress at the conviction and sentence.

Concordia College President Pamela Jolicoeur said the entire campus feels a sense of devastation, and it’s difficult not knowing much about her circumstances.

“What we will do is pray for her every time we have chapel and get together, because that is, in a way, all we can do,” Jolicoeur said.

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