Iran to free U.S. journalist, father says

Roxana Saberi records video in Tehran, Iran, in a photo taken in September 2003.
Iran will release imprisoned Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, her father said Monday.

Reza Saberi told CNN before 4 p.m. local time (7:30 a.m. ET) that his daughter will be released within a couple of hours. He was waiting for her in front of Evin prison, and has signed paperwork, he said. “We are very happy with the news,” he told CNN. “We were hoping for it.” Roxana Saberi was convicted last month on espionage charges in a one-day trial that was closed to the public. She was sentenced to eight years in prison. She denies the charges. Reza Saberi said authorities reduced her sentence to a two-year suspended term. “So, practically, she is free as of today.” The family will return to the United States “as soon as we can make arrangements for the trip,” he said. The change came a day after Iran’s court of appeals held a five-hour session on the case. State-run news agency IRNA quoted Roxana Saberi’s lawyer as saying Sunday, “Considering the way today’s session went, I am optimistic that fundamental changes will be made in the case of Ms. Saberi, which will be to her benefit.” Saberi was detained in January after initially being accused of buying a bottle of wine and working as a journalist without proper accreditation, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an advocacy group.

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Saberi has lived in Iran since 2003 and reported for international news organizations, including National Public Radio, the BBC and ABC News until her press credentials were revoked in 2006, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. She continued to file short news items, according to NPR. “Without press credentials and under the name of being a reporter, she was carrying out espionage activities,” Hassan Haddad, a deputy public prosecutor, told the Iranian Student’s News Agency. Authorities said Saberi confessed. Her father has said he thinks she was coerced into making damaging statements. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter last month to Tehran’s prosecutor calling for justice in the cases of Saberi and another detained journalist, Hossein Derakhshan, state-run news agency IRNA reported. Derakhshan is an Iranian-Canadian blogger who has been imprisoned in the country since November. Reporters Without Borders, a group that fights for journalists’ rights worldwide, says Derakhshan was sentenced to four years in prison for disseminating the views of one ayatollah and for “publicity against the government.” Saberi went on a two-week hunger strike to protest her detention, but ended it last Monday after her parents visited her in prison and pleaded with her to stop, Reza Saberi told CNN. At one point during the hunger strike, she was hospitalized and fed intravenously, her father said. Saberi’s case has prompted denunciations from President Obama, as well as other U.S. and international officials. The whole experience has been “very depressing” for her, and she has gone through a great deal of frustration, Saberi’s father said Monday. “It will take some time before she can overcome it.” He added, “it’s not the (Iranian) people — they are very friendly. We don’t understand why it happened.”