The high-profile case of a young Iranian-American woman sentenced by Iran to a lengthy prison term for alleged espionage took an unexpected twist when an acclaimed Iranian filmmaker stepped forward to vouch for her innocence and say his "fiancee and companion" had stayed in the country at his urging.
The letter, by award-winning director Bahman Ghobadi, describes a frantic 10-day search after Roxana Saberi disappeared and before Ghobadi says he learned from her father that she had been taken into custody. The plight
of the 31-year-old freelance writer, who was sentenced in Iran to eight years in jail on espionage charges that Washington and the European Union have dismissed as baseless, threatens to complicate recent U.S. efforts to renew a dialogue with Tehran.
Contacted by Radio Farda, Saberi's father, Reza, declined to comment on the contents of Ghobadi's public appeal.
In the letter -- posted in Farsi, English, and French versions
on the Internet -- Ghobadi says Saberi "really wanted to leave Iran" but that he "kept her from it." He says Saberi helped steer him through difficult days as officials banned one film and refused to authorize the making of another.
"And now I am devastated, for it is because of me she has been subject to these events," Ghobadi says.
He adds that Saberi devoted her time to research for her book, which he says was "a praise to Iran."
"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?!"
Ghobadi worries for Saberi's health in prison, and says his letter is "a desperate call to all statesmen and politics (sic), and to all those who can do something to help."
He goes on to express optimism that Saberi's guilty verdict will be overturned on appeal.
His letter concludes: "My Iranian girl with Japanese eyes and an American ID, is in jail. Shame on me! Shame on us!"