Roxana Saberi to Speak at Maryville College

July 7, 2010
Contact: Chloe Kennedy, News and New Media Writer
865.981.8209; chloe.kennedy@maryvillecollege.edu

Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist who was falsely accused of espionage and imprisoned for 100 days in Iran, will speak on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at the Clayton Center for the Arts on the Maryville College campus.

Her lecture, titled "On the Streets of Tehran," will focus on the six years she lived in Iran as a journalist and witnessed the developments leading up to the 2009 disputed Iranian election, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iranians calling for freedom and fighting for free and fair elections. The Iranian regime reacted by using deadly violence to stop to the protests, which sparked outrage among its citizens, as well as the international community. During her lecture, Saberi will discuss the political, cultural and historical significance of those events as they continue to develop and explain what it means for human rights and democracy, the Middle East and the world.

Free and open to the public, the event is part of the Fall 2010 Community Conversations Series and will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Clayton Center's Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre. A book signing for her memoir, Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran, will follow the lecture.

"We are delighted to have Roxana Saberi to contribute to the series and visit our campus on Sept. 15," said Angelia Gibson, assistant professor of chemistry and member of the Community Conversations committee. "Her insights from her years as a journalist writing about social issues in Iran and the experiences she lived during her imprisonment provide an important context for human rights discussions."

Saberi grew up in Fargo, N.D., and is the daughter of Reza Saberi, who was born in Iran, and Akiko Saberi, who is from Japan. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., in 1997 and holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in international relations from Cambridge University. She was chosen as Miss North Dakota in 1997 and was among the top 10 finalists in Miss America 1998, winning the Scholar Award.

Saberi arrived in Tehran in 2003 as a freelance journalist to open a news bureau for the independent broadcast news agency Feature Story News. FSN distributed her reports to broadcasters around the world, and Saberi's work soon became familiar to many international audiences. She also occasionally contributed to NPR, PBS and Fox News.

On Jan. 31, 2009, while researching a book on Iran, Saberi was arrested and put in solitary confinement. Blindfolded and interrogated for hours, she was promised freedom if she would falsely confess to being a spy.

Saberi was finally allowed to see an attorney on March 8, after more than six weeks of captivity. One month later, her parents were allowed a 20-minute visit with her in Tehran's Evin Prison, where she was being held.

Saberi's plight triggered an international uproar. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded her release, and on March 10, several international news organizations wrote an open letter to the Iranian government, urging Iran to allow independent access to Saberi and expressing concern about her well-being and "the deprivation of her rights." Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Asian American Journalists Association, Committee to Protect Journalists, Society of Professional Journalists and UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc. also closely followed her situation.

On April 8, the Iranian government charged Saberi with espionage and sentenced her to eight years in prison. On May 10, her appeal was heard by an Iranian appeals court, and Saberi was freed from Evin Prison on May 11 – after 100 days in prison.

Saberi credited her release largely to the outpouring of international support.

"I'm very grateful for that, but some of (the women prisoners) are not even known to the outside world," Saberi said in a statement. "There's not the same kind of international support for them. What they're trying to do is stand up, for example, for freedom of speech or belief and religion – for basic human rights. I have to say that they were some of the strongest and most admirable people that I have ever met, not only in Iran, but in my whole life."

Saberi wrote a memoir of her experiences in Iran, Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran, released in March 2009. She has also been speaking out for Iran's "prisoners of conscience" and the Iranians who have been detained in the aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential election.

She has been honored with the Medill Medal of Courage, the Ilaria Alpi Freedom of the Press Award and the NCAA Award of Valor.

Saberi's lecture is part of the College's Community Conversations Series, an annual series conducted to facilitate conversations and discussions between members of the entire Maryville College community, citizens of Blount County and surrounding areas, College alumni and prospective students.

This year's theme for the series is "human rights."

"The topic of human rights is very broad, but we have tried to plan events that cover a diverse range of global human rights issues," Gibson said. "The year-long Community Conversations series will feature a number of important human rights debates from personal, political and religious freedoms to distribution of natural resources and access to health care, presented in a variety of forums."

Kicking off the series, on Aug. 31, will be Matt Murrill, a 2008 Maryville College alumnus who is based in Kolkata, India, completing a Fulbright-Nehru fellowship. He has spent the last year examining the problem of groundwater arsenic contamination in Eastern India with the School of Environmental Studies at Jadavpur University.

During this experience, he has also been working with the non-government organization Calcutta Kids, which is committed to the empowerment of women and children living in slums in and around Kolkata through community-based programs seeking to improve maternal and child health. He will discuss the integrated framework of health and human rights, drawing from the evolution of his own perspective informed by experiences with institutions striving to ensure the provision of safe drinking water and health care to both rural and urban communities in the region of Bengal.

In early October, Community Conversations will sponsor a short human rights film festival featuring two documentary films on land and workers' rights in South America. The critically acclaimed "Sand and Sorrow," which explores the human rights tragedies in Darfur, Sudan, will also be shown. Maryville College faculty members will facilitate discussion periods following the films.

The series will continue in the spring with events that will focus on the rights of children, international perspectives on religious freedoms and the use of music as an advocacy and protest medium in human rights debates.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester is 1,168.