Fresh appeal launched for Silva Harotonian’s freedom

U.S. aid worker has been in Iranian prison for full year

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Thursday June 25, 2009

Journalist Roxana Saberi during a June 24 press conference in Paris calling for the release of her former cellmate, aid worker Silva Harotonian. Eric Lefeuvre / FreeSilva.org

Balloons are released during a ceremony in support of Silva Harotonian in Paris, June 24, 2009. Eric Lefeuvre / FreeSilva.org

Washington - Amid Iran's postelection crisis and mass arrests of antigovernment activists now underway, supporters have met to renew their appeal for release of Silva Harotonian, a U.S. aid worker who this week marked a full year of incarceration in Tehran.

Gathering in Paris on June 24, her former cellmate Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, cousin Klara Moradkhan, and others sought to remind the public of Ms. Harotonian's plight.

"I was very fortunate to have been freed and fortunate because there was a lot of international attention on my case," Ms. Saberi said, appealing for public support to win Ms. Harotonian's release, The Associated Press reported.

Ms. Saberi was released last month, shortly after having being given a lengthy prison sentence on charges of espionage. A citizen of Iran and the United States, she returned to her father's country of birth and worked as freelance journalist, including for BBC and PBS.

Ms. Harotonian worked as an administrative staffer for a medical project run by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), an organization sponsored by the U.S. government, when she was arrested. She was reportedly coerced into a false confession of having worked against the Iranian government, on behalf of the United States, and earlier this year sentenced to three years in prison.

U.S. officials have said the charges against Ms. Harotonian, an Iranian citizen of Armenian descent, were "baseless" and there have been reports that her health has deteriorated in prison.

In an interview with Anita Vogel of Fox News, Ms. Saberi recalled how Ms. Harotonian "helped me feel I wasn't alone. She was the first person I really trusted, the first person I told about my false confession."

Also taking part in the event were IREX President Robert Pearson (who is also a former ambassador to Turkey) and Iranian human rights activists Karim Lahidji and Hadi Ghaemi, who described the ongoing postelection crackdown in Iran, which has been condemned by the United States and European states.

It is unclear if the turmoil in Iran has interfered in any way with the second and final appeal launched by Ms. Harotonian's lawyers.

"If it is one in a thousand, why would we give up hope?" Mr. Pearson was quoted as saying by Fox News when asked about the odds the Iranian government would reconsider Ms. Harotonian's sentence.

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A return to Asbury is scheduled for August 7-10. Courtesy image

Calendar of Events

In a month of beach parties and outdoor picnics, Armenians around U.S. are also planning several fundraisers and concerts; for details about upcoming Armenian happenings in America consult the Calendar of Events.