Muslims Mediate for US-Iran Journalist
By Muhammed Qasim, IOL Correspondent
"It is our hope that our call for reconciliation will be heard by all parties," Awad told IOL.
WASHINGTON — America's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group is preparing to send a delegation to Iran in a mediation effort seeking the release of jailed American journalist Roxana Saberi.
"We are hoping to secure Ms. Saberi's release and to remove a roadblock to better relations between our two nations," Nihad Awad, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told IslamOnline.net.
Saberi, 32, was sentenced to eight years in jail by an Iranian court in a closed-door trial on charges of spying for the US, in the harshest sentence meted out to a dual national on security charges in the Islamic Republic.
The Muslim delegation groups Awad, CAIR Board Chairman Senator Laryy Shaw, Board Member Sarwat Husain and Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.
They are preparing to leave for Iran during the next few days once their visas are issued and approved.
In an April 17 letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, CAIR requested that a delegation be allowed to travel to Tehran to discuss Saberi’s case with Iranian officials.
"This initiative is based on CAIR's request for a 'gesture of reconciliation' from the Iranian government and does not deal with the merits of the case one way or another," Awad clarified.
The Obama administration has blasted the Iranian charges against Saberi as unfounded.
The journalist, who lived in Iran for the past six years, went on hunger strike on April 21 to protest her conviction and has appealed the sentence.
President Ahmadinejad and judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi have called for a fair appeal.
Iranian Attorney General Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi said Wednesday that Saberi should appeal to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei if she wants to be pardoned.
Under Iran's judicial system only the supreme leader can pardon convicted offenders, except in murder cases where retribution is considered a private right.
During the visit to Iran, CAIR arranged to deliver a letter to President Ahmadinejad from the family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since 2007.
The delegation is additionally prepared to discuss the case of Esha Momeni, an Iranian-American graduate student currently prevented from leaving Iran.
But the Muslim organization insists that its mediation efforts are a "private initiative."
"But we are in touch with the State Department and have informed the Obama administration of our planned trip," Awad said.
CAIR sent a letter on April 22 to Obama and Secretary of State Clinton about their endeavors.
"White House and State Department officials will be offered briefings on the results of the trip," Awad added.
He stressed that undertaking such initiative is part of the CAIR’s core mission.
"As a major American Muslim organization that has the respect of Muslims around the world, we hope that our call for reconciliation will be seen as an effort to reduce growing tensions between the United States and the Muslim world."
Established in 1994, CAIR is a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington DC, with 32 offices and chapters across the US and Canada.
According to its mission, it strives to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
Saberi’s case came as Obama tries to repair ties with Iran, with which the US has had no diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
CAIR officials hope their mission will help change that.
"It is our hope that our call for reconciliation will be heard by all parties."