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Interview with Roxana Saberi

Aired April 7, 2010 - 16:49:00   ET



BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Journalist Roxana Saberi made headlines last year when she as imprisoned in Iran. The charge was espionage. The sentence -- eight years in jail.

She was released after four months when an appeals court reduced the sentence.

Before her arrest, Saberi had been working as a freelancer for a number of news outlets, despite Tehran revoking her press credentials in 2006.

A dual American and Iranian citizen, Saberi has kept relatively quiet about her experience in prison. But now, she's sharing her story in a new book, "Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran."

Roxana Saberi is your Connector of the Day.


ANDERSON: Roxana's book, "Between Two Worlds," hit the shelves just last week.

I spoke to her a little earlier about her ordeal and began by asking why she felt it was important to put pen to paper.

This is what she said.


ROXANA SABERI, JOURNALIST/AUTHOR: I think that my experiences are shared by many people who are wrongly imprisoned in Iran. There are many people in prison who were just peacefully pursuing their basic rights, like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association. And I wanted the world to know that what happened to me is a pattern for -- for many people who go through that system. It's unjust, from the detention to the trial. And many of them are experiencing much worse than what I went through.

ANDERSON: Fascinating stuff.

We've got some questions from the viewers for you.

Izzo writes in and he says: "What are some of the conditions that you experienced in your time in Iran?"

Can you describe the conditions?

SABERI: I was held in solitary confinement for about two weeks. And during that time, it was a small cell, maybe seven by nine. I slept on the floor on a couple of blankets. The floor is cement. There's a thin carpet on top of it. There's one small window near the top of the -- of the roof -- well, near the ceiling, but it's out of reach and it has metal mesh on it. And you don't get books. You get the Koran.

When I was released from prison, some people asked if I was tortured and I -- I said well, they didn't physically harm me, so I guess not. But some human rights activists told me that, yes, there's something called white torture. It means that it doesn't leave a mark on the body, but it can devastate the mind and the conscience.

And this is a combination of manipulation and intimidation -- cutting you off from the outside world, putting in solitary confinement, not allowing you an attorney, not allowing you access to your family.

And this happens a lot to many other prisoners, so that the captors employed the maximum amount of pressure on you.

ANDERSON: You talked about not even being able to write notes in prison. You were given nothing.

Was it a difficult experience writing this book afterward, going back over what you'd been through?

SABERI: Sometimes it was. You know, I would get very angry at my captors for what they did to me. I would get angry at those people for what they were doing to my cellmates. One of my cellmates was a diabetic. And she was detained because she had gone to her local bakery and shouted, "We want bread!"

She wanted to get out of prison so badly that she went on a hunger strike. And I was in a cell alone with her for a few days. And I thought she was going go die. As one of my cellmates put it, she said, "Roxana, when you go back to America, please tell others that our country is not only about the nuclear issue, it's also about people like us."

ANDERSON: Bimal writes in and asks: "What motivates you to do your job every single day and what is it like to be a journalist in what is, as many people perceive to be, the -- one of the most dangerous places in the world?"

SABERI: Well, in Iran I was motivated because the country is a mysterious, exciting place and full of new stories and important new stories. And I felt very rewarded when I provided -- when I shared information about what's happening in Iran with -- with other countries, viewers and listeners from around the world.

It is a riskier place to report than, say, America, in general. But I think it's in closed societies like that where journalism and talking to people, interviewing people and sharing their views with the rest of the world, which is what I was trying to do in a book that I was writing about Iran at the time I was arrested, where these things can be the most important.

ANDERSON: Munir Ahmed has written to us. He says: "Glad to communicate with you, Roxana. What are your opinions regarding reconciling Iranian and U.S. views?"

SABERI: Well, I think that the door to dialogue should always remain open. One, because if you close it, then it seems like you're really narrowing the possibilities of a peaceful solution. But I think that even as America and other countries and the international community pursue the nuclear issue, they always have to keep human rights as a first tier issue and not a second or a third tier issue.


ANDERSON: Roxana Saberi is your Connector of the Day.

inspiration often comes from an ordeal and that is the case for our next Connector, tomorrow. After surviving a fatal car crash, British millionaire John Pedley is giving up his lavish lifestyle for a mud hut and children's charity in Africa. This is a really, really emotive story.

If you have a question about his life-changing decision, you can post it on the Web site, That interview tomorrow night.