Please, Iran, Release My Cousin Now, Too

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By Klara MoradkhanDevelopment Director, Children Uniting Nations

Like millions of others, I rejoiced this week in the release of Roxana Saberi from an Iranian jail. Yet I also wept that my cousin, Silva Harotonian, similarly accused and convicted on political charges, remains behind in Iran's notorious Evin Prison. After almost a year in detention, she remains caught in a tragic misunderstanding.

For the very basis on which Ms. Saberi was freed - Iran's recognition that it and the United States are not in a state of hostility toward one another - would support Silva's release as well under Iranian law.

Silva, an Iranian citizen of Armenian descent and Christian faith, is a kind-hearted young woman who loves poetry and helping others - hardly signs of a revolutionary or spy. She was hired by the Yerevan, Armenia, office of the International Research Exchanges Board (IREX), a U.S.-based non-profit. An administrative aide, she supported an exchange program for U.S. and Iranian maternal and child health care professionals - exactly the type of initiative needed to increase understanding between countries.

In June 2008, during her fourth trip from Armenia to Iran for work, Silva was arrested. She was later sentenced to three years detention for allegedly creating a "soft revolution" and had her initial appeal denied. Silva has such a bright future ahead, but her health now is deteriorating, so we plead with Iranian officials to show mercy during Silva's upcoming final appeal. Iranian officials pledged to offer Ms. Saberi speedy and fair consideration of her appeal. Our entire family -- in Los Angeles, in Armenia, in Iran -- hopes they will do the same for Silva. Silva's 75-year-old mother will be waiting at the gates of Evin Prison for the day they are reunited.

Silva is ethnically Armenian -- and relations between Armenia and Iran have never been stronger according leaders, including, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Armenians celebrate their national holiday, Republic Day, on May 28. There could be no greater gesture between Iran, Armenia and the United States, and no greater testament to the central importance of mercy in Islamic and Christian faiths, than for Iran's leaders to demonstrate their compassion by releasing Silva.

Klara Moradkhan is Development Director for Children Uniting Nations, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles.