Jailed Newsweek reporter faces personal ordeal

BEIRUT – Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than three months, got troubling news: His wife is having a difficult pregnancy and will be delivering their first child without him.

Paola Gourley could hear the shock in her husband's voice when she told him she would be having the baby two weeks early during a rare phone call Sunday from Tehran's Evin Prison.

"'What's wrong with you?' he kept asking," Gourley told The Associated Press on Monday from her home in London. She has been placed on bed rest by her doctor and is scheduled to deliver by cesarean section on Oct. 26.

The call_ only their second since Bahari, 42, was arrested on June 21 — was short, just a few minutes. And even with the relief of talking to him, it was bittersweet.

The two were to have been together in London for the first glimpse at their child — by ultrasound — when Bahari was arrested. On Sunday, she told him the baby's sex, a detail she preferred to keep private.

The couple met in March 2007 in London, where Gourley, 40, who is British, practices law. Bahari was born in Iran and emigrated to Canada, where he attended university and obtained Canadian citizenship.

A journalist and documentary filmmaker, he has worked for Newsweek for 10 years and has always been fully accredited with the Iranian authorities, said Newsweek's foreign editor, Nisid Hajari.

The magazine has appealed for Bahari's release on humanitarian grounds.

"There's a very strong humanitarian reason for him to be released so he can be with his partner when she gives birth," Hajari said in a telephone interview Monday from New York. "If they the Iranians want to engage with the rest of the world and build trust, freeing people like Maziar is a good way to start."

Iran entered direct negotiations last week with the U.S. and other world powers over its nuclear program, a significant step in reducing tensions with the outside world — and some hope the thaw could lead to the release of Bahari and other detained foreigners.

Gourley had not wanted to burden Bahari with news of her pregnancy's complications.

So when he called the first time, on Sept. 13, "I said I'm fine, I'm strong, not to worry about me ... I just wanted him to feel as strong as possible."

She was emotional, but tried not to break down. "I knew I didn't have time to cry."

"It was wonderful to hear his voice, but at the same time it made me so heartbroken to know that he was just going to leave the call and then go and get locked up in solitary confinement again," she said, adding that he told her that he was permitted to leave his cell only twice a day for 30 minutes.

Before the arrest, "we bought furniture, decorated the baby's room together.," Gourley recalled. "He was really excited. He bought cupboards for the baby's room; he wanted to get involved, he was looking forward to spending time with me during the pregnancy."

Last week, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon made a joint call for the freeing of Bahari and Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American academic also arrested in the crackdown, as well as three American hikers. Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were detained in late July.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been noncommittal when asked about the cases in recent interviews.

"Family values are very strong for him and now I'm sure he's quite devastated not to be near me now, when I'm pregnant," Gourley said.

AFP/Armend Nimani