PARIS – Roxana Saberi, the American journalist who was convicted of espionage in Iran but released from prison last month after her eight-year sentence was reduced, is speaking out in support of her former cellmate, who remains behind bars in the Islamic Republic.
With representatives of human rights organizations by her side at a press conference in Paris, Saberi said it was urgent to apply international pressure to free humanitarian worker Silva Harotonian.
"She helped me feel I wasn't alone," Saberi said of Harotonian. "She was the first person I really trusted, the first person I told about my false confession."
Harotonian, 34, was detained last year while traveling to Tehran for the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), a global nonpolitical non-government organization for which she administered a program designed to improve health care for women and children in Iran.
An Iranian citizen of Armenian descent, she was charged with trying to wage a soft revolution against the government and sentenced to three years in prison. Wednesday, June 24, was the first anniversary of her imprisonment.
"She has spent 365 days in jail," Harotonian's cousin, Klara Moradkhan, said as she held back tears. "She has spent Christmas alone, New Year's alone, and she spent her 34th birthday by herself."
As was the case with Saberi's family, Harotonian's relatives said they were warned by Iranian officials to keep quiet.
"It's like they have an interrogators handbook," said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, who believes Harotonian did nothing to warrant her arrest and imprisonment. "Take the detainee, tell them not to inform anyone, no media, don't get a lawyer, throw them in solitary confinement."
"I know Silva is innocent," Ghaemi said. "I have studied the court document."
He said thousands of people who have been protesting the June 12 presidential election results in Tehran are now in the same situation as Harotonian, accused of crimes they did not commit. He said he fears at least 200 people have been killed in the uprising, many more than have been officially reported.
"Prominent journalists, politicians and students" have been swept up, he said.
Harotonian's second appeal is pending, and her supporters are hopeful that the current crisis in Iran may help her case.
"If it is one in a thousand, why would we give up hope?" Robert Pearson, former ambassador to Turkey and president of IREX, replied when a reporter asked if the crackdown in Iran made Harotonian's situation all the more hopeless.
When Saberi was asked if she believed the worldwide attention on the Islamic Republic could help her friend's case, she paused and said, "I hope so."