Iran releases former Rotary Scholar, journalist
Former Rotary Scholar Roxana Saberi smiles as she talks with media in Tehran, Iran, 12 May after her release from prison. AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian
The 11 May release of former Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar and U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi, imprisoned in Iran on charges of spying, brought elation and relief to people worldwide, especially to Rotarians of Fargo, North Dakota.
Saberi, a Fargo native, was arrested in January and initially accused of working with expired press credentials, but authorities later charged her with espionage. Her release came after an Iranian appeals court reduced her eight-year prison sentence to a suspended two-year sentence.
Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Fargo, Saberi was selected as a 1999-2000 Ambassadorial Scholar to attend the University of Cambridge, where she studied journalism.
Fargo club president Joel Fremstad wrote a letter to Mohammad Khazaee, permanent representatitive of Iran to the United Nations, and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, explaining Saberi's connection to Rotary and its mission and requesting her release.
Fremstad, who worked on Capitol Hill in 2003-04 for U.S. Representative Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, contacted his former boss to express concern on behalf of all Rotarians in the state. Pomeroy, who was a Rotary Scholar in 1975-76 at Durham University in England, got involved and worked closely with the U.S. State Department on Saberi's release. Days before she was freed, he contacted Khazaee for an update on her situation.
"A lot of people, including Iranian officials, coordinated together so that the proper diplomacy [could] take action in Saberi's release," says Fremstad. "Everyone was excited and relieved to hear the good news."
"In North Dakota, when a friend or neighbor is in trouble, we come together and lend a hand," says Pomeroy. "That was especially true in Roxana's case, where countless individuals and groups came forward to offer their support.
"As a fellow Rotary Scholar, I am especially proud of the work Rotarians did on Roxana's behalf throughout this ordeal," he says. "We don't know what ultimately led to Roxana's release, but I am confident that the rallies, letters, and countless displays of support for Roxana back home played no small part."
Gary Nolte, past governor of District 5580, who helped select Saberi for the Ambassadorial Scholarships program, rejoiced after hearing the news of her release.
"It was an absolute rush when I heard," says Nolte, a member of the Rotary Club of Moorhead, Minnesota, USA. "Saberi is extremely intelligent and confident. During the scholarship interview process, it actually seemed like she was interviewing us. She had everything going for her."
Saberi, whose father was born in Iran, holds dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship. She moved to Iran in 2003, where she worked as a freelance journalist for the BBC and National Public Radio. She plans to return to Fargo, where her family lives.
"We're all very much looking forward to her coming home," says Fremstad. "I'm sure there will be a great celebration upon her return."
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