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Roxana Saberi, APSC speaker Credit: Melanie Lei

For a moment, a diverse cross-section of the Penn community closed its eyes and tried to imagine what it might feel like if they were imprisoned for doing nothing wrong.

The Asian Pacific Student Coalition hosted Iranian-Japanese journalist Roxana Saberi Tuesday night in Huntsman Hall, attracting approximately 50 students. Saberi has worked with ABC Radio, NPR and BBC, but chose to share about her experience in Iran. While writing a book overseas on Iranian culture, she was arrested in January 2009 on false charges of espionage and taken to a prison notorious for holding journalists, activists, members of religious minorities and lawyers. Eyes shut, students listened as she described her experience in prison.

“You hear the voices of men from behind you. They’re shouting questions at you,” Saberi said while students conjured up the images. “Your captors say you’re guilty, and you have to prove you’re innocent.”

After going through intense interrogations, Saberi finally decided to make a false confession on the promise of being set free. However, she began to feel guilty and questioned her decision. “One day my body will be free, but will my conscious still be behind bars because of what I have done?” she explained.

Saberi’s two cell mates, female leaders of the Baha’i faith, expressed their commitment to truth. “The best path for them to take was to stay true to their principles,” Saberi said. It was then that she decided to retract her false confession and have her freedom denied again. “I’m okay with staying in prison because actually I feel free,” she recalled of her thoughts at the time.

International outcry pressured authorities to free Saberi after 100 days in prison. In her talk, Saberi encouraged students to become active in fighting injustice. “Suffering spreads but I have seen that goodness can overcome it.”

Engineering sophomore and APSC Vice Chairwoman of Political Affairs Michelle Leong spearheaded efforts to bring Saberi to campus, hoping that she would “bring together students that wouldn’t normally come to the same events,” referring to Saberi’s unique ethnic background.

The crowd had diverse reactions to the event.

“I wasn’t particularly shocked by any of it — but it was really well presented,” College junior Drew Samoyedny said.

“I tried my best to imagine myself in the situation,” College junior Sarah Haghighi said. “I think I could relate even more to her experience and how you could feel in such a moment.”

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