Monday, 20 April, 2009

US Journalist 'Saberi' sentenced to 8 yrs in prison

By Edward Yeranian
18 April 2009

American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was charged with espionage against Iran, has been convicted and condemned to eight years in prison, after being tried behind closed doors. The father of the dual national Saberi, who confirmed the verdict, also says that she was "tricked" into confessing.

The Iranian court sentenced American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi to eight years in prison.

The 31-year-old Saberi, who is a dual American-Iranian citizen, has reported for National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corporation and was arrested in January. She was charged with "spying for the United States," and put on trial Monday. The U.S. State Department has rejected the spy charges as "baseless." U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday she was disappointed by the sentencing and said the U.S. government would continue to raise concerns to the Iranian government.

Saberi's father Reza Saberi confirmed the sentence against his daughter, and argued that she had been "tricked" into confessing to what he called, "bogus charges." Her attorney says that he will appeal.

Reza Moini, of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, says that his organization is protesting what amounts to a "sham" trial and that the charges don't even correspond with Iran's own penal code.

Moini says that the condemnation doesn't correspond with the definition of espionage in Iran's penal code, articles 501 and 502, and the charge of espionage doesn't fit Saberi's case, either. But, what's important, he argues, is that the court tried her behind closed doors so that she couldn't defend herself properly. The Islamic Republic, he says, has been using dual national journalists or scholars for six or seven years, now, to put pressure on other countries, especially the U.S.

Iran expert Ali Nourizadeh who runs the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London says that Iran has misread signals from the Obama administration that it will ignore Tehran's human rights practices, detaining Saberi and other dual nationals so as to win the release of Iranians it claims the U.S. arrested unfairly in Kurdistan, last year.

"The Iranian regime, at the moment, though the Americans invited them for talks, and Americans actually showed some leniency towards them by not mentioning the human rights issue in their statement," he said. "So, therefore, the Iranians took the message wrongly and they believe if they push and push, they can get their men released, those who were arrested in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah."

Nourizadeh insists that Saberi's case is political and that the Iranian government has no credible case against her.

"Roxana did not do anything wrong. She just did her job and she was doing it for several years and there was no complaint," he said. "But, this time they come just with the excuse that she didn't extend her license. Okay, she did not extend her license, and that would be punishable by a fine or three months imprisonment, not eight years."

The court ruling comes after recent diplomatic overtures by U.S. President Barack Obama to renew dialogue with Iran and after European Union foreign policy head Javier Solana invited Iran to a round table conference to discuss its controversial nuclear program.

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