- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Neighbors and friends in the hometown of an American journalist imprisoned in Iran came together last month to fill sandbags to fight off the rising Red River. Now they’re joining to tie yellow ribbons around the trees near Roxana Saberi’s home and urge her release from prison.

“We needed to show some signs of support,” said Kevin Melicher, a neighbor of Saberi’s parents, Reza and Akiko Saberi, in the quiet upscale neighborhood along the Red River.

Roxana Saberi, who grew up in Fargo, was convicted of espionage in Iran last week after a one-day trial behind closed doors and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Friends and colleagues maintain she’s a political pawn and not a spy.

On Tuesday, neighbors tied yellow ribbons around the trees and then added lace bows and a white ribbon with “Roxana” on it. They placed more than 100 ribbons, mostly on ash trees and some on cherry trees.

Arrick Olson was among the first to tie ribbons, along with his 5-year-old daughter, Evie. Olson said his daughter asked to help.

“She did. When she found out there were ribbons involved, it was hard to deny her,” Olson said.

Jean Melicher, Kevin’s wife, said she bought out most Fargo stores of yellow ribbons. When a neighbor asked where she could get more, Jean Melicher said, “Good luck with that.”

“They’re all gone in the city,” she said.

Neighbors had hoped to decorate the Saberi house with a large yellow and white wreath, but they ran out of material.

Jane Voglewede said the ribbon-tying was timely because Roxana Saberi turns 32 on Sunday.

“Even if it’s symbolic, this is something,” Voglewede said. “To me, this is one of the efforts to keep it alive.”

The neighbors’ names were on a list put together last month, when Fargo fought off a record Red River flood. Residents of Saberi’s neighborhood had piled sandbags about 3 feet high in their backyards.

Kevin Melicher said he greeted Reza Saberi during the sandbagging effort and told him “we were thinking of them.

“He thanked me and said they were leaving for Iran,” Melicher said.

Reza Saberi, who was born in Iran, told The Associated Press that he and his wife visited his daughter Monday in Evin prison north of Tehran and that she was in good condition.

Iran’s judiciary spokesman said Tuesday that Roxana Saberi’s prison term may be reconsidered on appeal, an indication her sentence will be commuted.

On Monday, the judiciary chief ordered a full investigation into the case, a day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Tehran’s chief prosecutor to ensure Saberi be allowed a full defense during her appeal.

Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance journalist for news organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. She received Iranian citizenship because her father was born in Iran.

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