Students rally to support Medill alum Roxana Saberi

Katie Glueck

Video by Sarah Simpson. Edited by Trevor Seela

Medill Dean John Lavine called for justice, humanitarianism and freedom at a rally Thursday for Roxana Saberi, a Medill graduate sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison. The rally, which took place at the Rock, drew about 80 students, faculty and members of the media.

“We believe Roxana needs to come home,” Lavine said. “She’s one of us.”

Saberi, Medill ’99, was convicted of espionage and sentenced Saturday after a closed, one-day trial. She was arrested in January, initially on charges of buying alcohol. Saberi announced Thursday she is going on a hunger strike to protest the charges.

Saberi has worked as a freelance journalist in Iran since 2003. Her press credentials were revoked in 2006, although she continued to file stories for BBC, NPR and Fox News.

“I don’t believe those charges,” said Medill Prof. Stephan Garnett, who taught Saberi in 1998. “She’s a pawn in an international game, and this needs to stop.”

The Medill Undergraduate Student Advisory Council planned the event as an organized response to Saberi’s imprisonment, said MUSAC member Shari Weiss. The rally featured speeches from Lavine, Medill Prof. Jack Doppelt and Medill graduate student Joseph Freeman, who manages the Web site Weiss, a Medill senior, presented a statement on behalf of an Iranian Northwestern student who wished to remain anonymous.

Participants gathered at Fisk Hall at 5:15 p.m. and marched to the Rock, shouting “Free Roxana!” and “Bring her home!”

“The Medill student body has been largely silent on the issue,” Weiss said. “I was distantly following the story for the past few months, but when I found out she’d been sentenced to eight years in prison, it made it seem so much more real. It’s a person’s life we’re talking about.”

The goal of the rally was to catch the attention of lawmakers, said Weiss, a student member of The Daily’s publishing board.

“No one is naive enough to think the rally will lead to her immediate release or that anyone in Iran is going to notice,” Weiss said. “The point is to make a difference in America by having a rally, getting the media’s attention and the attention of lawmakers. If we can put the pressure on lawmakers who can put pressure on Washington, we can start seeing results.”

University President Henry Bienen reached out to some lawmakers earlier this month, sending letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. MUSAC will also sponsor a letter-writing campaign to U.S. legislators.

Doppelt, who has stayed in touch with Saberi since she graduated, urged rally-goers to keep the fight going.

“The storyline has changed dramatically,” he said. “The trial came and went in a flash. Four days later, the verdict: espionage. The sentence: eight years in prison. The evidence? We don’t know.”

He encouraged attendees to keep telling Saberi’s story.

“So what now? You’re here. The cameras are here,” he said. “Our role is to convince others, on campus and around the world, to care about Roxana Saberi.”

Lorcan Kelleher does not have any direct ties to journalism, but he said he needed no convincing to feel connected to Saberi’s plight.

“It’s an unjust decision by the Iranian government,” the Weinberg freshman said, lime green “Free Roxana” poster in hand. “I have a personal interest in the story because she’s a Northwestern graduate, a Medill alum. She’s a U.S. citizen and the government should do something about this.”

In the meantime, Saberi supporters can send birthday wishes to [email protected] She will turn 32 on Sunday.

[email protected]