Iran General NewsIran sentences American journalist to 8 years in prison

Iran sentences American journalist to 8 years in prison

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ImageNew York Times: Iran has sentenced an Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, to eight years in prison after convicting her of spying for the United States, her lawyer said Saturday.

The New York Times

By NAZILA FATHI
Published: April 19, 2009

ImageTEHRAN — Iran has sentenced an Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, to eight years in prison after convicting her of spying for the United States, her lawyer said Saturday.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was “deeply disappointed” by what the State Department has called baseless charges against Ms. Saberi, and demanded her release.

“We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement released Saturday.

The sentencing of Ms. Saberi, 31, could 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 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran responded positively.

Ms. Saberi’s sentencing appears to set the case apart from other recent detentions of people with dual citizenship. Two Iranian-American scholars, Haleh Esfandiariand Kian Tajbakhsh, were arrested in 2007 on accusations that they tried to overthrow the government, but they were released on bail before their trials began. Ms. Esfandiari was allowed to return to the United States, and Mr. Tajbakhsh is allowed to leave Iran when he wants.

It is difficult to judge how politics may have affected Ms. Saberi’s case.

One political analyst in Iran, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate subject matter, said Ms. Saberi’s arrest could be part of the efforts by radical forces within the establishment who might be trying to sabotage any reconciliation with the United States.

“There have been similar efforts in the past to sabotage efforts that were aimed at resuming ties with the United States,” he said. “Her jailing might be part of the same efforts.”

Iran has also been pressing for the release of three Iranian officials whom the United States took into custody in 2007 in Iraq. The men, who Iran says are diplomats, were arrested at Iran’s consulate in Erbil in northern Iraq.

United States forces have said the men had links to the Revolutionary Guards.

Some diplomats have suggested in the past that another American who many believe is being held in Iran, Robert Levinson, a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, might be being held as a high-value chip in a possible prisoner swap. Mr. Levinson traveled to the southern island of Kish in 2007 on what his family said was a business trip and has been missing since then.

Ms. Saberi, who grew up in Fargo, N.D., was arrested in January on the charge of buying alcohol, which is outlawed in the Islamic Republic. The Foreign Ministry said later that she was accused of working as a reporter without press credentials, but the prosecutor’s office said this month that she was put on trial for spying. She was tried in the Revolutionary Court, which hears security-related cases, and is is being held in Evin Prison in Tehran.

She has lived in Iran for six years and has worked for National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corporation. Iranian authorities revoked her press card in 2006.

The verdict came after an unusually swift trial, which started last Monday and was held behind closed doors.

Ms. Saberi’s lawyer, Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, told the official Iranian news agency, IRNA, that he was told he could appeal the case and that he would.

In a statement released Saturday, Vivian Schiller, the president and chief executive of NPR, said, “We are deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence.”

She also said that “we know her as an established and respected professional journalist.”

In an interview with NPR, Ms. Saberi’s father, Reza Saberi, who was in Iran but not allowed into the courtroom, said his daughter was coerced into making incriminating statements.

“They told her if she made the statements they would free her,” according to a transcript of the interview on the NPR Web site. “It was a trick.”

He also said that his daughter wanted to go on a hunger strike, but he added that she was weak and that he feared it would be dangerous to her health.

Both Democratic senators from North Dakota, which is where Ms. Saberi’s parents live, expressed outrage over the sentencing, A.F.P. reported.

"This is a shocking miscarriage of justice," Senator Byron Dorgan said in a statement. "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.

"I call on the Iranian government to show compassion," Senator Dorgan said, adding that he would continue to work with the Saberi family, State Department officials and the international community to gain her release.

"I will not rest until Roxana is given her freedom and arrives home," he said.

The other senator, Kent Conrad, described her sentence as "preposterous" and a "travesty of justice," adding that Iran "is doing enormous damage to their credibility on the world stage with behavior like this."

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