A love letter for Roxana from her film director partner

In an emotional declaration, Bahman Ghobadi - partner of jailed journalist Roxana Saberi - has appealed to the Iranian authorities to release the woman he says is 'too pure' to be guilty

Convicted by Iran of spying for the US and given an eight-year jail sentence, Roxana Saberi is at the centre of a tense new stand-off between Tehran and the West. Barack Obama has demanded the release of the 31-year-old journalist, who has dual Iranian and American nationality. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has intervened in the case. And yesterday, an acclaimed Iranian film director stepped forward to proclaim her innocence, denounce her imprisonment as an act which has brought shame on all Iranians and publicly to declare his love for Ms Saberi.

In a moving and heartfelt open letter, written "with tears in my eyes", Bahman Ghobadi, whose films have won prizes at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals, said Ms Saberi was a victim of Iran's "political games" because she happened to be the holder of an American passport.

Speaking publicly of their relationship for the first time since her arrest, he begged the authorities to let her go and described her as "an Iranian", a woman who had devoted her time to researching a book in praise of Iran, a woman "too pure" to be used for political purposes. He accused those Iranians who were aware of her research and her sympathies of keeping silent despite knowing "how guiltless she is".

Imploring the Iranian judiciary to let him at least testify at her appeal he said that, as the person who had "shared every moment with her" he could attest that it was impossible for her to have worked as a spy.

Ms Saberi, whose arrest in January was said to have been because she attempted to buy a bottle of wine, was later accused of working without the proper media accreditation before being charged with espionage. Yesterday she appealed against her sentence as her father warned she could soon begin a hunger strike. At the same time, a judiciary spokesman in Tehran hinted her sentence may be reduced or commuted.

Mr Ghobadi may be hoping that his letter will help to humanise Ms Saberi among his fellow Iranians and, by revealing insights into her life, demonstrate how far removed she was from the profile of a professional spy in the pay of the CIA. The director is a member of the so-called New Wave of Iranian cinema. He has worked closely with such figures as Abbas Kiarostami and won prizes for films including A Time for Drunken Horses and Half Moon. In 2006, Turtles Can Fly won him an Index of Censorship award for its contribution to freedom of expression.

It is not believed that Ms Saberi's prosecution was linked to Mr Ghobadi's work. Indeed, her relationship with one of Iran's leading film-makers might have protected her, had it been more widely known among the Iranian political hardliners who may see her as a way to derail Mr Obama's attempts at rapprochement.

The director's cut: What the letter said

"If I kept quiet until now, it was for her sake. If today I speak, it is for her sake. She is my friend, my fiancée, and my companion, an intelligent and talented young woman I have always admired.

It was the 31st of January. The day of my birthday. That morning, she called to say she would pick me up so we would go out together. She never came. I called her mobile but it was off and for two to three days, I had no idea what had happened to her. I went to her apartment and since we had each other's keys, I went in, but she wasn't there. Two days later, she called and said: "Forgive me my dear, I had to go to Zahedan." I got angry: why hadn't she said anything to me? I told her I didn't believe her and again she said: 'Forgive me my dear, I had to go.' And the line was cut. I waited for her to call back. But she didn't.

I left for Zahedan. I looked for her in every hotel, but nobody had ever heard her name. For 10 days, thousands of wild thoughts came to mind, until I learnt through her father that she had been arrested. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was a misunderstanding, that she would be released after two or three days. But days went by and I had no news. I started to worry and knocked on every door for help, until I understood what had happened.

It is with tears in my eyes that I say she is innocent and guiltless. It is me, who has known her for years, and shared every moment with her, who declares it. She was always busy reading and doing her research. Nothing else. During all these years I've known her, she wouldn't go anywhere without letting me know... To her friends, her family, everyone that surrounded her, she had given no signs of unreasonable behaviour.

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] now be charged with a spying accusation?! We all know – no, we have all seen in movies – that spies are malicious and sneaky, that they peep around for information, and that they are very well paid. And now my heart is full of sorrow. Because it is me who incited her to stay here. And now I can't do anything for her. Roxana wanted to leave Iran. I kept her from it.

At the beginning of our relationship, she wanted to go back to the United States. She would have liked us to go together. But I insisted for her to stay until my new film was over... And now I am devastated, for it is because of me she has been subject to these events. These past years, I have been subject to a serious depression. Why? Because my movie had been banned, and released on the black market. My next movie was not given an authorisation, and I was forced to stay at home. If I've been able to stand it until today, it is thanks to the help that she provided me with.

... She is the one who took care of me while I was depressed. Then I convinced her to stay, I wanted her to write the book she had started in her head... She was absorbed by her book, to the point that she could stay and bear it all, until my film would be finished, and we would leave together.

Roxana's book was a praise to Iran. The manuscripts exist, and it will certainly be published one day, and all will see it. But why have they said nothing? All those who have talked, worked and sat with her, and who know how guiltless she is.

I am writing this letter for I am worried about her. I am worried about her health. I heard she was depressed and cried all the time. She is very sensitive. To the point she refuses to touch her food. My letter is a desperate call to all statesmen, and to all those who can do something to help.

From the other side of the ocean, the Americans have protested against her imprisonment, because she is an American citizen. But I say no, she is Iranian, and she loves Iran. I beg you, let her go! I beg you not to throw her in the midst of your political games! She is too weak and too pure to take part in your games.

Let me be present at her trial, to sit next to her wise father and gentle mother and testify she is without guilt or reproach. I am optimistic about her release and I hope the verdict will be cancelled in the next stage of the trial. My Iranian girl with Japanese eyes and an American ID, is in jail. Shame on me! Shame on us!"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Sport
football
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk