There is more of a sensitivity toward us because we can speak the language. We don’t need a translator, who’s probably going to be pressured to inform on us. We don’t need a government minder to travel with us. We don’t have to stick to two or three big cities in Iran. We can go to the rural areas with our Iranian passports. We can come and go from the country. We’re independent.
While I was reading your book, I was struck by the level of detail. Do you feel like you were still functioning as a journalist while you were in prison?
When you’re in prison, you don’t have a whole lot to distract yourself with, especially in solitary confinement. A minute feels like an hour, an hour feels like a day, and a day feels like an eternity, because you spend a lot of time reviewing conversations in your head. When I was sitting in solitary confinement, I didn’t think, “I’ve got to remember this so I can write a book about it someday.” But when I came out, I did intend to write about all of this, and I took notes for several days. I just let them all pour out of my head before I forgot anything. Of course, memory has its shortcomings and mine is not perfect. I did have to reconstruct conversations—obviously they’re not all verbatim. But I did my best.
Your interrogators warned you all along not to talk about any of what happened to you. Are you nervous about going public with this stuff?
I know there’s a risk. They warned me that if I talked about these “arrangements” (that’s what they called them), they could find me anywhere in the world, and make it look like I’d died in a car accident. But I think I have a responsibility to share some of these stories. Not only my own, but also the stories of my cellmates. I need to say that what happened to me is happening to so many other innocent people in prison today. So I think it’s worth that risk. At the same time, maybe I’m not a priority at all for the Iranian authorities. They’ve got a lot of other things to focus on right now.
Why, in the end, do you think you were arrested?
While I was incarcerated, I came to various possible conclusions. I do believe they wanted to get a false confession out of me in order to intimidate Iranians trying to reach out to the West. This would provide some fuel for their argument that the U.S. has agents all over Iran in the guise of ordinary people: journalists, activists, humanitarian workers or simply people who have ties with the West. Therefore the government must be vigilant, and must crack down on these people in the name of national security. But in the long run, every time you throw somebody in prison, you’re breeding resentment across a growing part of Iranian society, and I saw that. My cellmates, their families, other prisoner’s families—sometimes they would talk while they were waiting for meetings, and they’re all angry.
Do you think you’re going to keep reporting?
Possibly. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do in the long run.
What about going back to Iran?
I don’t think my parents are quite ready for that. And I know that now is not a good time for me to go back.
Correction: This story originally reported that Saberi spent four months in solitary confinement. Actually, she spent 100 total days in prison, and eighteen of those in solitary confinement. The original sentence has been updated. CJR regrets the error. Click here to return to the corrected sentence.