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Arrest of Minnesota college graduate journalist on global radar

From the London Times to The New York Times, the weekend's news of Fargo native Roxana Saberi's detainment in Iran spread worldwide.

And now, people across the nation are expressing an outpouring of support for the freelance journalist and her Fargo family, as state and national politicians press for the 31-year-old's release.

"We really don't have any more energy left," Iran-born father Reza Saberi, 67, said about the past couple of days. "It's quite encouraging to know so many people care, and we are overwhelmed by the response we are getting from people."

Roxana Saberi, a Fargo North High School and Concordia College graduate and former Miss North Dakota, has been detained in Iran for a month.

She had been working in Tehran, Iran, for six years with dual citizenship, reporting for news organizations such as NPR and the BBC.

"We know she's a very accomplished young lady, and obviously we're concerned about her," North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said Monday. "We'll do anything we can, working through our Department of State, to try to get her released and back here to the United States."

Saberi was in the process of writing a "quite harmless" book about Iran and its culture, her father said Saturday. But she also wrote extensively on the Iranian government and its international relations.

Her last NPR reports detailed the Iranian government's "morality crackdown," restricting Western clothing and hairstyles or banning women from attending soccer matches.

On Feb. 10, she called her parents to tell them she had been arrested 10 days earlier for buying a bottle of wine - a charge her parents rejected.

Iranian officials responded Monday, saying it was because she was reporting after the government revoked her press pass in 2006, The Associated Press reported.

"I don't think that's a valid reason," Reza Saberi said Monday. "I know our daughter was not reporting anything ... that wasn't already in the media."

Her parents had hoped Saberi would've been released within days, keeping her arrest quiet for a month, as she requested.

Now, after they went public with the news Saturday, Hoeven as well as North Dakota U.S. Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan offered their support to the family and spoke to the State Department on Monday about the situation.

The U.S. has not had direct diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979.

Without a U.S. embassy in Iran, the State Department has to work through the Swiss embassy, which is inquiring about Saberi's status and facts surrounding her arrest, Hoeven said.

"Once they determine the facts as provided to the Swiss by the Iranians, then they'll have a better sense of how to proceed," Hoeven said. "But at this point, they haven't gotten a response to their inquires."

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also said her office has contacted the State Department.

In a prepared statement, Dorgan said the news of Saberi's arrest "deeply disturbed" him.

"This is a difficult time for them," Dorgan said of her family. "I plan to continue monitoring this situation, and I'll make sure our government is doing everything it can to get Roxana released quickly and safely."

While Conrad echoed similar sentiments in his statement, fellow journalists also offered their support.

"She doesn't have a news organization backing her up," said freelance journalist Margo Melnicove from her Boston home. "I would do anything I can to help."

After hearing about Saberi's arrest, Melnicove e-mailed friends and fellow freelance journalists Monday to gain their support.

"I've been very involved in just watching her grow and her career develop," said Melnicove, who mentored Saberi in 2001 in a 10-week professional development program through NPR. "She is so bright."

Melnicove said she introduced Saberi to Simon Marks, the president of D.C.-based Feature Story News - a TV and radio organization Saberi went on to work for.

While Saberi's former employer declined comment Monday, Simon did say via e-mail that the company, along with NPR and ABC, may have updates later this week.

The Committee to Protect Journalists urged the Iranian government to charge Saberi with a crime and let her go. Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the New York-based organization added the Iranian government may hold a news conference today about charges filed against Saberi.

Supporters like Caroline Cornish will be watching for any new information.

Cornish, a TV reporter and anchor in Portland, Maine, sent a letter to Saberi's parents, expressing her concern.

Cornish, 32, attended graduate school with Saberi 10 years ago at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, staying in touch with her via e-mail ever since.

She choked up Monday talking about her friend.

"It hurts," she said. "I know she was really enjoying working in Iran," Cornish said. "She definitely wanted to be on the international stage."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515