Taking a stand for the Iran journalist

In an effort to support American journalist Roxana Saberi, some faculty and students at Northwestern started a hunger strike Friday. Iran denies it, but Saberi herself has been on a hunger strike since April 21, protesting her eight-year prison sentence. She was arrested in late January, initially a…In an effort to support American journalist Roxana Saberi, some faculty and students at Northwestern started a hunger strike Friday. Iran denies it, but Saberi herself has been on a hunger strike since April 21, protesting her eight-year prison sentence. She was arrested in late January, initially accused of working without press credentials. But in early April, an Iranian judge charged her with espionage. She was then sentenced after a one-day trial behind closed doors. Her lawyer appealed the ruling. The case has caused tension between Washington and Iran, straining an already contentious relationship.

As difficult, foreign and far away as the case may be, it hasn’t stopped people from trying to free her and get her story told. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is trying to get a visa to travel to Iran to negotiate Saberi’s release. The Council on American-Islamic Relations is working on delegations, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already asked Iran for Saberi’s release. The case has also touched students back at Northwestern.

Saberi has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Iran and graduated from Northwestern in 1999 with a master’s degree in journalism. Six years ago, she moved to Iran and worked as a freelance journalist for numerous news organizations, including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. A journalism professor at Northwestern said Saberi always wrote very in-depth pieces and that as a journalist in Iran, she was able to give a voice to those who didn’t have one — and those who couldn’t have one. Perhaps that’s why Saberi faced such serious charges and was given an eight-year prison sentence. She has an appeal in Iran, but it is still going to be a rough case for the journalist. The Iranian government does not acknowledge dual citizenship. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said Monday that because Saberi is of Iranian nationality, she will be treated according to Iranian laws.

Either way, it’s inspiring to see students take a stand for one of their own. If any University alumni were in Saberi’s position, Illini would surely do the same — at least, we would hope to do the same. But to see active participation from the Northwestern students should be a reminder to everyone that it does make a difference to stand up for what you believe in. Saberi may or may not be discharged from her eight-year prison sentence soon. If she is, it won’t be because the students and faculty at Northwestern went on a hunger strike. But their actions shed light on the situation, to the circumstances and to their alumna’s case.

The students could have chosen other actions to support Saberi. They could have gone on a strike with picket signs. They could have written letters to their local representatives and to Clinton. They could have lobbied and made phone calls. But in reality, none of the letters they would have sent to Clinton would have made it to Clinton’s desk; none of their phone calls would have made it past some secretary’s desk. Not to say that lobbying, writing letters and making calls doesn’t have an effect — it does. Any action, as small as it may be, means something and does have an effect. And the students and faculty at Northwestern decided to go on a hunger strike, and that was the best plan of action for this case.

It’s important for students to know that if they believe in something, they should stand up for it. They should make their voices heard. Right now, Roxana Saberi’s voice is being silenced while she is waiting for her appeal; waiting in Tehran’s Evin prison on a hunger strike. While her voice is silenced, the students and faculty at Northwestern are speaking for her. And as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.