The Woman Who Confessed to Being A Spy, But Wasn't

FRESNO, Calif. 30 years after the Iranian hostage crisis, the Iranian regime locked up American journalist Roxana Saberi and accused her of spying for the U.S. After she spent 100 days in the country's most notorious prison, international pressure convinced Iran to set saber free.

She sat down recently with Action News Reporter Corin Hoggard and revealed what scared her the most, why she made a false confession, and why she'd like to go back to Iran. Nothing in Roxana Saberi's past could prepare her for the 100-day nightmare she would endure in 2009.

The journalism bug bit her as she was growing up in Fargo, North Dakota, where she knew another future journalist. That's her on the left, sitting down with a coat on her lap in this picture from 1993. I'm the one hiding behind the puppy on the right.

By the time we met again, Saberi had gone on to become Miss North Dakota and had worked as a reporter for several news agencies. Then, journalism led her to her father's native land of Iran. She wanted to tell the story of the Iranian people -- a behind the scenes look into the lives of people seeking democracy in a harsh religious regime.

As a dual citizen of the U.S. and Iran, she didn't stand out in her burka. But the Islamic regime noticed her, and her reporting eventually led to a surprise arrest.

Corin: "What's going through your mind when four guys come pick you up at your apartment?"

Roxana: "Fear. A lot of fear. The four men said, 'Stay where you are, somewhere we can see you.' I couldn't call for help. 'We're going to take you elsewhere for questioning and if you cooperate, we'll bring you back home tonight. If not, we'll take you to Evin prison.'"

Evin Prison is Iran's most notorious lockdown for political prisoners. Right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, Evin's gates have closed on many, but opened for few.

Saberi's fear turned to shame soon after she was placed in solitary confinement at Evin. Iran accused her of spying, and, believing it was her only path to freedom, she confessed.

"They said if you confess to being a spy, we'll release you. Of course, I wasn't a spy, but under their pressures and threats, I did make a false confession," said Roxana.

The shame of her confession stung Saberi. After she got out of solitary confinement, she met other women in the prison -- women who refused to bend to the will of the guards.

"They said, even if we could get our freedom that way, we would rather not do that. So I felt even more ashamed of my actions and I decided to recant while I was still in custody."

Iran kept Saberi's imprisonment a secret for nearly a month, but her plight soon drew international attention. President Obama said he was deeply disappointed when the secretive Islamic revolutionary court convicted her of spying. "She is an American citizen and I have complete confidence that she was not engaging in any sort of espionage."

Within weeks of that statement, Iran changed course. An appeals court reduced the charge against her and suspended her sentence.

"I was surprised. I was brought back to the appellate courthouse and I was told there by the judge that I was free. I didn't think they would free me after they gave me an 8-year sentence," said Roxana. Saberi was all smiles when she returned to cheering crowds in the United States. Since then, she's written the book "Between Two Worlds" about her time in captivity and she's touring the country to tell the story.

It's not the book she set out to write, but it has given her a platform. She'd like to use it to keep a spotlight on Iran. Then someday, she might be able to visit without fear.

"Right now is probably not the best time for me to go back. But I hope in the future that I can."

Dreams of democracy replacing the nightmare of captivity.

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