[DEHAI] Ordeal in Iran: Reflections on [Iranian-American] Journalist Roxana Saberi (DissidentVoice.org)

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From: Berhan Sium (eretrawi@yahoo.com)
Date: Fri May 22 2009 - 14:09:57 EDT

Selam Dehai,

I just thought sharing this article with you about the "ordeal" of an Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, may be of some use. The writer makes valid points about how so-called journalists operating in the non-Western world under shady circumstances are made into heroes while the same standard doesn't apply for journalists jailed and languishing in US and European prisons for no crime at all. It would be good to arm ourselves with such knowledge whenever the "jailed Eritrean journalists" issue comes up every year or so by CIA ouitfits like "Reporters Without Borders" or "Committee to Protect Journalists". As they say, knowledge is power, and knowing your enemies' weaknesses is winning half the battle.

Happy Independence Day!
Happy Birthday, Ertra!
May she always be FREE & INDEPENDENT (in the literal and broad sense of those concepts)!

Berhan Sium


Ordeal in Iran
Reflections on Iranian-American Journalist Roxana Saberi

by Ziyaad Lunat / May 22nd, 2009

Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist was the centre of worldwide attention after she was jailed in Iran. She was initially sentenced to six years in jail for 'spying', a charge she denied. The term was cut on appeal to a two-year suspended sentence. She only ended up serving four months, mainly due to international outcry over her case. Now that Saberi is out of the limelight, it is important to reflect on the instrumentalities of her ordeal. There are two key issues that should be analyzed; first, the media treatment of her case and second, the distinctiveness of her story. I will address these in order.

Media concentration in developed capitalist societies mean that news corporations have the power to single-handedly decide the news agenda: which event is considered news-worthy, what angle a story should take, who takes the victim or victimizer's role, who is given a voice . . . with implications on how people perceive a particular issue.

One of the functions of modern media is the creation of consent for the actions of the state. While it is true that there is space for independent critical voices in the west, journalists share an unspoken consensus on the limits of discourse, often ideologically motivated. The 'war on terror' has exposed these processes more clearly:

Corporate news outlets uncritically adopt state discourse on the 'war on terror' -- none has meaningfully challenged the party line. Words like 'terrorist', 'security threat' or an 'us' vs 'them' discourse are commonly used in the media. While there is scrutiny of some aspects of the government's 'war on terror', no media outlet vigorously challenges the core paradigm underpinning state action. Even journalists known to be 'dissenters', Robert Fisk is one such person, tend to reveal an inherent bias against the 'other', the outsiders who should always be perceived as 'different' and remain irremediably so (more about benevolent orientalists on a later article).

My point is that the media corporations are part of the parcel of the state's war machinery. This is pungently illustrated in the case of Iran. As the allied forces begin preparations to decimate yet another sovereign nation on the pretext of their imperialist ambitions, the media has upgraded Iran to 'news-worthiness'. While we only hear about countries like Nigeria when there is trouble flaring, Iran now became a daily news topic. Fox News for instance created an Iran section on its website. News headlines not only focus on Iran's alleged 'nuclear ambitions' but cover also diverse aspects of Iranian society, politics, culture, and even private life.

There has been a process of re-discovery of Iran, a re-building of perceptions about a country in the eyes of the public. Iran is being reconstructed, re-imagined, and tailored. The Iranian people are being scrutinized, tokenised and instrumentalized. Once in a while, we hear reports of pleas for help from Iran, as if these calls were urging the [western] audience to 'rescue' the powerless Iranians. Put together, this 'Iranization' of the media is contributing to the building of perceptions about Iran. These images will eventually play into the legitimization of a new war.

Roxana Saberi's case should be seen within this context. As pointed out by Glenn Greenwald, journalists demonstrated 'virtually no objections' to the arrest without charges or trials of journalists by the U.S., a practice which has been a 'staple' of America's 'war on terror'. Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, for example, spent six years in Guananamo, with no charges leveraged against him or right for a fair trial. His case enjoyed very little media coverage, if any. Like al-Haj, other journalists continue imprisoned under U.S. custody, with no legal recourse. Yet, the plight of these journalists was not newsworthy enough. Even the BBC, known for its impartiality (not), made a public plea for Iran to allow access to the journalist -- no pleas were forthcoming in regards to journalists imprisoned by Britain and its allies.

My second point in this critique of Roxana Saberi's ordeal is to question the distinctiveness of her case. Only after Roxana Saberi's release details of her arrest were made public, helping to put her case into perspective. She spent four months in a prison in Tehran, charged with spying, an act of treason in many, if not all countries. The problem was that during this whole saga, Saberi's persona became more important than the evidence supporting Iran's case against her.

It turns out that Saberi was arrested because she had obtained "classified documents". As reported by the BBC, she secretly obtained a confidential Iranian report on the U.S. war in Iraq -- a highly sensitive issue at the moment. According to her lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, the report was prepared by a research center of the Iranian presidency (i.e., pretty high up). Saberi illegally seized the documents while working as a freelance translator for the Expediency Council, 'a powerful body in Iran's ruling clerical hierarchy'.

I am wondering what journalists do when in possession of "classified documents? Yes, you guessed it right, they make them public. Yet, Iran released her. To put this into perspective, I decided to research similar cases in the so-called 'free world' in order to find out what happens to those public workers who happen to seize 'classified documents'. Here's what I found:

* Last year, the United States of America jailed for 10 years an Iraqi translator for keeping copies of 'classified documents' about the Iraqi insurgency. At least he had the decency of pleading guilty for his charges (not before a dose of torture, perhaps).
* In 2005, Sandy Berger, a former Clinton aide pleaded guilty for 'mistakenly' taking 'classified documents' dealing with 'terror threats'. Under a plea agreement, Berger was ordered to pay a $10 000 fine, surrender his security clearance for three years and cooperate with investigators. There was public outcry because he was not given a jail sentence!

These are only two of the many cases I found -- a simple google search makes it clear that this case was not out of the ordinary. Because the protagonists of this staged saga were Iran and a U.S. citizen, this case was tokenized as proof of Iran inherent 'evilness' and was granted exceptional status.

My point is not to add or remove anything from Saberi's plight -- who may now follow a career as a well-paid speaker in neo-con circles -- but to flag key issues, which will play in people's minds when justifying the next war.

Ziyaad Lunat is an activist for the rights of Palestinians and of other oppressed peoples. He can be contacted at z.lunat [at] gmail.com. Read other articles by Ziyaad.


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