Executive director of the Flaherty Film Seminars, Mary Kerr, just sent the following letter from filmmaker, Bahman Ghobadi, regarding the arrest, trial and conviction of his fiancée, journalist Roxana Saberi. Saberi was charged by Iranian authorities with espionage on behalf of the United States.
At last year's Flaherty, which I attended as a Fellow, we participants were privileged to have two conversations via Skype with Ghobadi who was one of the featured artists that year. Saberi sat beside him as his translator (pictured). Ghobadi did not appear in person only because he had not been given permission to travel to the United States. All of us agreed that it was one of the most extraordinary experiences we had there, one among many.
A website has been set up to campaign for her release and includes up-to-date information on the situation. I would like to also share the open letter from Ghobadi which he wrote following Roxana's conviction:
"To Roxana Saberi, Iranian with an
If I kept quiet until now, it was for her sake. If today I speak, it is for her sake.
She is my friend, my fiancée, and my companion. An intelligent and talented young woman, whom I have always admired.
It was the 31st of January. The day of my birthday. That morning, she called to say she would pick me up so we would go out together. She never came. I called on her mobile, but it was off, and for two-three days I had no idea what had happened to her. I went to her apartment, and since we had each other's keys, I went in, but she wasn't there. Two days later, she called and said: "Forgive me my dear; I had to go to ." I got angry: why hadn't she said anything to me? I told her I didn't believe her, and again she said: "Forgive me my dear, I had to go." And the line was cut. I waited for her to call back. But she didn't call back. She didn't call back.
I left for Zahedan. I looked for her in every hotel, but nobody had ever heard her name. For ten days, thousands of wild thoughts came to my mind. Until I learned, through her father, she had been arrested. I thought it was a joke.
I thought it was a misunderstanding and
that she would be released after two or three
days. But days went by and I had no news from
her. I started to worry and knocked on every
door for help, until I understood what had
It is with tears in my eyes that I say she is innocent and guiltless. It is me, who has known her for years, and shared every moment with her, who declares it. She was always busy reading and doing her research. Nothing else. During all these years I've known her, she wouldn't go anywhere without letting me know, nor would do anything without asking my advice. To her friends, her family, everyone that surrounded her, she had given no signs of unreasonable behavior. How come someone who would spend days without going out of her apartment, except to see me; someone who, like a Japanese lady, would carefully spend her money, and had sometimes trouble making a living; someone who was looking for a sponsor to get in contact with a local publisher so her book would be printed here (in Iran); could now be charged with a spying accusation?! We all know - no, we have all seen in movies - that spies are malicious and sneaky, that they peep around for information, and that they are very well paid. And now my heart is full of sorrow. Because it is me who incited her to stay here. And now I can't do anything for her. Roxana wanted to leave Iran. I kept her from it.
At the beginning of our relationship, she wanted to go back to the United States. She would have liked us to go together. But I insisted for her to stay until my new film was over. She really wanted to leave Iran. And I kept her from it. And now I am devastated, for it is because of me she has been subject to these events. These past years, I have been subject to a serious depression. Why? Because my movie had been banned, and released on the black market. My next movie was not given an authorization, and I was forced to stay at home. If I've been able to stand it until today, it is thanks to the presence and help that she provided me.
Since I had no authorization for my last
movie, I was nervous and ill-tempered. And
she was always there to calm me down.
Roxana wanted to leave Iran. I kept her from it. She is the one who took care of me while I was depressed. Then I convinced her to stay, I wanted her to write the book she had started in her head. I accompanied her, and thanks to my friends and contacts, I knocked on every door and was able to set up meetings with filmmakers, artists, sociologists, politicians, and others. I would go with her myself. She was absorbed by her book, to the point that she could stay and bear it all, until my film would be finished, and we would leave together.
Roxana's book was a praise to Iran. The manuscripts exist, and it will certainly be published one day, and all will see it. But why have they said nothing? All those who have talked, worked and sat with her, and who know how guiltless she is.
I am writing this letter for I am worried about her. I am worried about her health. I heard she was depressed and cried all the time. She is very sensitive. To the point she refuses to touch her food. My letter is a desperate call to all statesmen and politicians, and to all those who can do something to help. From the other side of the ocean, the Americans have protested against her imprisonment, because she is an American citizen. But I say no, she is Iranian, and she loves Iran. I beg you, let her go! I beg you not to throw her in the midst of your political games! She is too weak and too pure to take part in your games. Let me be present at her trial, sit next to her wise father and gentle mother, and testify she is without guilt or reproach.
However, I am optimistic about her release, and I firmly hope the verdict will be cancelled in the next stage of the trial.
My Iranian girl with Japanese eyes and an American ID is in jail. Shame on me! Shame on us!