Iran sentences U.S. journalist to 8 years

Roxana Saberi records video in Tehran, Iran, in this photo taken in September 2003.
A U.S. journalist in Iran was sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage, her father, lawyer and news reports said Saturday — a sentence that prompted denunciation from the United States.

Iranian media, including an Iranian judiciary source quoted Saturday by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency, confirmed the sentence of Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old Iranian-American from North Dakota. “I am deeply disappointed by the reported sentencing of Roxana Saberi by the Iranian judiciary,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. “We are working closely with the Swiss Protecting Presence to obtain details about the court’s decision, and to ensure her well-being.” Clinton said the United States will “continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government.” “Ms. Saberi was born and raised in the United States, yet chose to travel to the Islamic Republic of Iran due to her desire to learn more about her cultural heritage. Our thoughts are with her parents and family during this difficult time.” Her father, Reza Saberi, told National Public Radio in an interview Saturday that the decision will be appealed. The Islamic Republic News Agency, another Iranian news outlet, said an appeal must be filed within 20 days. Roxana Saberi has freelanced for National Public Radio and other news organizations and was writing a book about Iranian culture. The Committee to Protect Journalists, the journalists’ advocacy group, said Saberi was first detained in January, although no formal charges were disclosed.

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“She told her family that she was initially held for buying a bottle of wine. A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said later that Saberi was being detained at Tehran’s Evin Prison for reporting without proper accreditation,” the committee said on its Web site. Reza Saberi told NPR on Saturday he believes his daughter was coerced into making damaging statements. He said the verdict was issued Wednesday. The court, which didn’t meet Thursday and Friday, reconvened Saturday. Reza Saberi said his daughter was brought to the court, but he wasn’t allowed to enter. Her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, confirmed the verdict and sentence and vowed an appeal would be launched within 20 days. “I will definitely appeal the verdict within this period,” he said. Reza Saberi said his daughter earlier wanted to go on a hunger strike but she was persuaded not to. However, he said there is a chance she might do so now in light of the verdict. Reza Saberi said his daughter is “very weak and frail.” “She is quite depressed about this matter and she wants to go on hunger strike. If she does, she’s so frail it can be very dangerous to her health.” Others also denounced the verdict. “Roxana Saberi’s trial lacked transparency and we are concerned that she may not have been treated fairly,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We call on the Iranian authorities to release her on bail pending her appeal.” Vivian Schiller, NPR’s chief executive officer and president, said the network is “deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence.” “Saberi has already endured a three-month confinement in Evin Prison, and we are very concerned for her well-being,” Schiller said in a statement. “Through her work for NPR over several years, we know her as an established and respected professional journalist. “We appeal to all of those who share our concerns to ask that the Iranian authorities show compassion and allow her to return home to the United States immediately with her parents.” North Dakota lawmakers slammed the conviction. Democratic U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad called the ruling “preposterous,” adding that the “charges against her are baseless.” “She was tried in a secret trial without her attorney even being present. That is a travesty of justice.” U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan called the ruling “a shocking miscarriage of justice.” “The Iranian government has held a secret trial, will not make public any evidence, and sentenced an American citizen to eight years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit,” the Democratic senator said. U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-North Dakota, said he was “dismayed at the verdict from the secret trial of Roxana Saberi.” “We know Roxana to be a fine young woman of intelligence and integrity and I hope based on humanitarian considerations she will be allowed to return to the United States. “I am humbled by the brave efforts of Roxana’s parents who traveled from Fargo to Tehran, and I will continue to work closely with them in an effort to secure her release.” Feature Story News, the stringer service that employed Saberi in Iran, also condemned the action. Simon Marks, president and chief correspondent, called the conviction a “miscarriage of justice — or what passes for justice in modern Iran.” “Roxana moved to Iran in February 2003 to offer global audiences balanced, objective coverage of news developments in the Islamic Republic. Since then, she has always honored journalistic principles of the highest professional standard. “We note that no evidence to support charges of espionage has ever been furnished by the authorities in Iran. We can only conclude that absolutely none exists.”