Jesse Jackson to go to Iran in bid to free journo

The Star, 22 April 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: US civil rights activist Rev Jesse Jackson is planning to visit Iran in his personal capacity to urge for the release of jailed US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi.

Jackson, who has applied for a visa to get into Iran, said he also happened to have been Sabery’s first interview subject when she was studying journalism at Northwestern University.

“On a personal level, 10 years ago she was a student there and she came to my office and interviewed me. Little did I know that she would be in prison now and I would be trying to gain her her freedom.”

Saberi, 31, was sentenced in Iran last week to eight years’ in jail after she was convicted of spying for the United States.

In an unprecedented move on Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for “justice” for Saberi and said she should be given the right to defend herself.

Jackson said he would not be speaking on behalf of President Barack Obama or US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton as they had both made appeals as government officials.

“Our appeal is that of a free agent that has had some experience in resolving conflicts like this. We want to make a humanitarian appeal, a moral appeal to gain her release,” he told reporters after delivering a keynote address at a peace dialogue here Wednesday.

Jackson has had extensive experience in negotiating the release of prisoners and hostages over the years in conflict areas such as Syria, Cuba, Kuwait, Iraq and Kosovo.

He also urged Malaysians to use their connections with Iran, whether religious or political, to make a plea for Saberi’s release.

Jackson is the founder and president of the Rainbow/People United to Save Humanity coalition and was also the former aide to martyred civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King.

He had delivered three speeches in Malaysia centred on the importance of equality and peace. He will be in Bangkok from Friday onwards to deliver three more speeches.