CHICAGO -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Saturday that he has made contact with religious leaders in Iran and wants to take a group of multi-faith leaders to the country to plea for a detained U.S. journalist's release.
Jackson said he applied for a visa to Iran earlier this week and will continue applying until his request is granted. He said he wants to make a moral and humanitarian plea for the release of journalist Roxana Saberi.
Saberi, a dual American-Iranian citizen who turns 32 on Sunday, was convicted more than a week ago of spying during a one-day trial behind closed doors. She was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Jackson said he feels pressure to act fast because Saberi is now reportedly in her fifth day of a hunger strike.
"This is not a political trade off; this is a humanitarian plea. We want to say, 'On the basis of humanity, please let her go,'" Jackson told The Associated Press. "When it's just government to government, it's a power play. She ends up being a pawn or a trophy in a pingpong game between nations."
The Chicago-based civil rights leader said he's been in contact with Saberi's family and her friends asked him to make the trip to Iran.
He said Saberi interviewed him a decade ago while she was a journalism student at Northwestern University in suburban Evanston. Jackson said didn't realize the connection until Saberi's friends pointed it out to him recently.
Saberi, who was raised in Fargo, N.D., is a 1999 graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. She moved to Iran six years ago to work as a freelance reporter.
Jackson, 67, said similar situations have been turned into opportunities for increased diplomacy before, and he hopes to do that in this case, as he has in the past.
In 1984, the civil rights leader met with then-President Hafez Assad of Syria. Jackson helped arrange the release of a Navy pilot whose plane had been shot down over Lebanon during an American airstrike against a Syrian anti-aircraft position weeks earlier.
Six years later, Jackson also helped win the release from Iraq of more than 700 foreign women and children detained after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.