Iran Releases Journalist Convicted of Spying for U.S.
Nazila Fathi – New York Times May 11, 2009
An Iranian-American journalist who was sentenced to eight years of jail on charges of spying for Washington was released Monday after an appeals court reduced the sentence, her lawyer said.
Saleh Nikbakht, one of the two lawyers who defended Roxana Saberi in an appeal hearing on Sunday, said the court turned down the original jail term and issued a two-year suspended prison term in its place.
“The verdict was given to me in person today,” Mr. Nikbakht said. “The appeals court has accepted our defense.”
Ms. Saberi had been held in Evin prison since January. The court ruling meant that she can leave the country immediately if she decides to, Mr. Nikbakht said as he awaited her release with Ms. Saberi’s parents, who live in Fargo, North Dakota, another lawyer for Ms. Saberi, and a crowd of journalists and photographers.
Mr. Nikbakht gave no further details about her release or her plans. But her father, Reza Saberi, told The Associated Press: “In the next few days, we will make travel plans to return home.”
Her whereabouts after her release were not immediately known.
Ms. Saberi, 32, has lived in Iran since 2003 and worked as a freelance journalist for National Public Radio and the BBC. She was arrested in late January for buying a bottle of wine, which is illegal in Iran. But the charges against her escalated to working without a press card and then spying for Washington. Her press card had been revoked in 2006.
The sentencing had threatened to complicate political maneuvering between Iranian and American leaders over Iran’s nuclear program, an issue that kept relations icy during much of the Bush administration. President Obama recently made overtures to Tehran about starting a dialogue over the nuclear program, and Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, responded positively.
Ms. Saberi was found guilty in April in a trial her father said lasted less than an hour. The State Department called the charges against Ms. Saberi baseless and asked for her release.
Soon after her sentencing, Mr. Ahmadinejad urged the chief prosecutor to re-examine the case.
In the appeal, Mr. Nikbakht argued that the espionage charge should be lifted because the foreign ministry and the judiciary had previously said that there was “no hostility between Iran and the United States.” The judges accepted the defense, he said.
The Paris-based press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders, welcomed the appeal court’s decision in a statement on its Web site.
Sharon Otterman contributed to this report from New York
Last updated 12/05/2009