Iran Convicts American Journalist Of Spying Despite Appeals By The U.s. For Her Release

April 19, 2009|By Thomas Erdbrink | Thomas Erdbrink,The Washington Post

An Iranian-American journalist has been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the United States, after a trial held behind closed doors, her lawyer and Iranian officials said Saturday.

The details of the accusations against Roxana Saberi, who holds U.S. and Iranian citizenship, are unknown. In the past, Iranian officials have arrested others with dual nationality, accusing them of being U.S. agents. Saberi's sentence, however, is the harshest meted out by an Iranian court to a dual national on security charges.

Her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said he would appeal but declined to comment further.

The verdict came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for Saberi's release and President Barack Obama made diplomatic overtures to Iran after three decades of severed ties.

The United States has said the accusations against Saberi are baseless.

On Saturday, Clinton issued a statement saying that she was "deeply disappointed" by the sentence and that U.S. officials "will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government."

An Iranian official defended the verdict and said the United States must stop interfering in Iran's internal affairs.

"The U.S. says it's extending a hand of friendship while at the same time it sends spies such as Ms. Saberi to Iran," Ali Reza Javanfekr, President Mahmoud Ahmaidjenajd's press adviser, said in an interview. "The U.S. government must change its contradictory behavior and take a truthful and clear and defined position. This is necessary for any new developments."

Saberi's father, Reza Saberi, told U.S.-based National Public Radio that his daughter had been coerced into making statements that she later retracted.

"She was deceived. Roxana said in court that her earlier confessions were not true, and she told me she had been tricked into believing that she would be released if she cooperated," he told Agence France-Presse.

"It's a very heavy sentence," said human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani. "Few cases have been given such harsh sentences."

Before Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance revoked Saberi's press credentials in 2006, without specifying the reason, she had worked in the country on a freelance basis for the BBC, National Public Radio and other news organizations. She remained in Iran and, according to her parents, is writing a book.

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