ELCA Presiding Bishop Asks Iranians to Release Concordia College Graduate
CHICAGO (Press Release) — The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and president of the Lutheran World Federation, wrote to the Iranian government April 9 and asked for the release of Roxana Saberi. Saberi is a journalist and graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn. She is being held in a Tehran prison, charged April 8 with espionage.
Hanson noted in his letter that “in the conversations our church has been privileged to engage around our shared Abrahamic heritage, we have learned that the light of truth is important for both Islam and Christianity. I understand that your culture and government takes a different approach than our own to the vocation of journalism and reporting.”
Saberi was born in the United States and grew up in Fargo, N.D., with her Iranian father and Japanese mother. Six years ago she moved to Iran, where she has filed news reports for National Public Radio, BBC and others. An Iranian official said that since Iran revoked her press credentials in 2006, her work constituted spying.
Saberi was arrested by Iranian authorities in January and put into Evin prison in Tehran. Spy charges were filed against her by Tehran’s deputy prosecutor. Her case is now in the hands of an Islamic revolutionary court.
Hanson joined U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who is an ELCA member, and a number of friends, concerned people and journalists who have called for Saberi’s release.
Concordia College is one of 28 ELCA colleges and universities. Saberi is scheduled to be the college’s commencement speaker May 3.
In his letter to Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaei, Hanson said, “I respectfully and strongly advocate for her release so she may be reunited with her family in this holy season.”
“Our culture has grown to value journalists as agents of truth and to give them latitude for investigation and truth-telling,” Hanson said. “Therefore, in addition to our call to advocate for persons in prison, I am called to advocate for the freedom of journalists who are not engaging in espionage but only trying to discover the truth of a given matter. Descendents of Abraham are seekers of truth.”
Hanson wrote that he understands the situation involving Saberi comes at a time when there are difficult issues between the governments of the United States and Iran. It is also a time for “renewed optimism for a more constructive, shared future,” he wrote.
“On the sure foundation of the merciful God we both worship, I pray that the merciful gesture of Iranian authorities returning a daughter to her parents will in this holy season lead to a reciprocal gesture of relationship from leaders in our own country,” Hanson’s letter concluded.
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