Monday, 20 April, 2009

Iran court to review Roxana Saberi's case

April 20, 2009 at 2:19 PM
TEHRAN, April 20 (UPI) -- Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi's espionage conviction will be reviewed expeditiously, the head of Iran's judiciary said Monday.
The ISNA news agency reported Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who runs the judiciary, announced through a spokesman that he had ordered the "careful, quick and fair consideration" of an appeal of the eight-year jail sentence imposed on Saberi, The New York Times said.

The announcement came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged the chief prosecutor in her case to review the matter.

Saberi, 31, who grew up in Fargo, N.D., and holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, worked for National Public Radio and BBC. She was arrested in late January and sentenced to prison last week on charges of spying for the U.S. government.

Her father, Reza Saberi, said told the Times he was allowed to visit his daughter Monday for the third time in jail.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Sunday efforts would be made through diplomatic channels to ensure the journalist was treated properly. He also said he was certain she wasn't spying for the United States.

Meanwhile, Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., announced Monday students will lead a rally Thursday to urge Saberi's release.

"The council felt we'd be remiss not to acknowledge this travesty," said Medill senior Shari Weiss. "We will march in solidarity with Roxana and journalists everywhere."

Saberi is a Medill alumna.

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.

Saturday, 18 April, 2009

Taliban-style justice for alleged U.S. spies

Friday, April 17, 2009 2:08 PM

By NBC News’ Carol Grisanti and Mushtaq Yusufzai

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – "I was given $122 to drop chips wrapped in cigarette paper at al-Qaida and Taliban houses," confessed 19-year-old Habibur Rehman, just before the Taliban shot him dead for spying for the United States. "If I was successful, I was told, I would be given thousands of dollars," he said.

In a video released last week by the Taliban as a warning to other would-be spies, Rehman recounted how he was recruited to spy on the Taliban in North Waziristan and drop small transmitter chips on specific targets to call in CIA pilotless drone aircraft.

"I thought this was a very easy job," Rehman said in the video before he was killed. "The money was good so I started throwing the chips all over. I knew people were dying because of what I was doing, but I needed the money."

VIDEO: Alleged Taliban spy confession

The chips transmit a signal to a satellite overhead. The drones, armed with Hellfire missiles, are controlled and remotely piloted by the CIA in the United States, according to Pakistani and western military analysts. Once the signal is received, the drone takes off from Shamsi air base in southwestern Pakistan and collects data and intelligence to attack the chosen Taliban and al-Qaida target.

A U.S. official, who spoke to NBC News on the condition of anonymity about the Taliban allegation said, "People should recognize this for what it is … extremist propaganda."

President Barack Obama has stated that he considers the drone program an effective tool to target al-Qaida sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the mountainous border with Afghanistan. Nine out of 20 wanted al-Qaida operatives, who were on a list drawn up by U.S. official last year, have been killed by drones using intelligence provided from chips planted by Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen working as spies.

Taliban says on to strategy
The top Taliban leaders believe they now have successfully infiltrated many of the spy networks operated by the U.S. and Pakistani military in North and South Waziristan – but not all.

"We used to watch these planes, but we had no idea they were chasing us and taking pictures of our activities," said a senior Taliban commander in North Waziristan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"In the early days of our jihad, our training camps were visible and people would come and go. We were not so concerned about the security of our locations, but that is all changed now. We abandoned all our old camps and re-located to new places," he explained.

The commander, who is close to Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a top Taliban boss in North Waziristan, said that 40 training camps have been moved because their Afghan friends, working for the Americans in Afghanistan, tipped them off about planned U.S. attacks.

"They told us the Americans had gotten pictures of our whereabouts and of our training houses and were planning to attack us through these unmanned planes," the commander said.

The commander said that once the Taliban had foiled their original plans, the Americans started paying Pakistani and Afghan citizens to identify their secret locations.

Taliban-style justice
"Finally, with the help of our sources in the Pakistani and Afghan intelligence agencies, we detained two Afghan tribesmen, who after five days of interrogation by our men, confessed to spying for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. They revealed other names and then we knew there were entire networks of spies operating in our areas," he said.

"Finally we busted one network of spies after another," the commander said and named some Taliban militants in their ranks who were operating as Western agents.

"Mullah Omar recently outlawed beheading of these traitors," the commander added. "Now we shoot them with AK-47 rifles, but only after we are sure of the charges against them."

A senior government official in North Waziristan, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life, said the Taliban have recently executed more than 100 alleged spies in North Waziristan.

Mohammed Nasir, who owns a general store in Miranshah, North Waziristan's main city, said that everyone is scared to death the Taliban will arrest them as spies.

"There is non-stop killing now of people accused of spying," said Nasir. "The government has no control – so the Taliban pick up people and try them in their secret courts. It is impossible to prove one’s innocence."

Before he was shot to death, Rehman said he did not know that he was spying for the United States, he just did it for the money. "I was told that if I could put a chip next to an Arab house, then I would get $12,000," he said.

Courtney Kube, NBC News Pentagon producer, contributed to this report.

Tuesday, 14 April, 2009

Trial of Iranian American journalist over

Behrouz Mehri / AFP/Getty Images
The dual U.S. and Iranian citizen has been in Tehran's Evin Prison since January and is charged with espionage.
Roxana Saberi has been in prison since January, accused of spying for U.S. intelligence. A judicial spokesman says she had her day in court Monday and can expect a verdict in the next three weeks.
By Borzou Daragahi
April 15, 2009
Reporting from Beirut -- The trial of an Iranian American journalist facing espionage charges is over and her fate rests in the hands of a judge who will deliver a verdict in the next three weeks, a judiciary official in Tehran told reporters Tuesday.

The spokesman for Iran's judiciary said 31-year-old Roxana Saberi, an American-born dual U.S. and Iranian national, had her day in court Monday.

"Apparently, the court has heard her final defense," spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters, according to Iran's Mehr news agency.

Saberi is accused of collecting information from Iranian officials and passing it to U.S. intelligence services, authorities said last week. She and her lawyer, Abdul-Samad Khorramshahi, appeared Monday before a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Court, which tries politically charged crimes.

Iranian lawyers have frequently questioned the due process and transparency afforded defendants at the Revolutionary Court.

Jamshidi said the public and media would not be able to evaluate the evidence.

"Relevant documents exist in the case and the claimants can gain access to it in order to prepare their defense," Mehr quoted him as telling reporters.

Saberi was detained in January after living and working in Iran for six years as a journalist, at least two of them without accreditation. She was confined to Tehran's Evin Prison.

Her parents arrived in Tehran last week. A few days later she was formally charged with espionage, a weighty accusation that could mean years in prison for the Northwestern University graduate and former Miss North Dakota.

In addition to the Iranian contention that Saberi was a covert U.S. operative, analysts have described other possible explanations for the charges:

Journalists' work -- interviewing officials and sending reports -- might resemble espionage. Those monitoring her might have built up a body of circumstantial evidence, such as visits to embassies, ministries and calls to the U.S., that might appear to be spying.

Iran's domestic political scene can be vicious. One faction might be trying to use Saberi to undermine possible rapprochement with the U.S. by another faction.

Iran also might want a bargaining chip to trade for officials who have been arrested and held by the U.S. in Iraq as spies over the last few years.

Friday, 10 April, 2009

Dad in Iran till daughter free


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The father of an American journalist charged by Iran with espionage called on Iran Thursday to free her and said in an exclusive interview with Associated Press Television News that he will not leave the country until she's released.

"I demand them to release my daughter as soon as possible so that she can return to her normal life and continue her job," Reza Saberi said. "I will stay here until she is freed."

Roxana Saberi has been living for the last six years in Iran, working as a reporter for such organizations as National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. The 31-year-old freelance reporter was arrested in late January.

A judge announced Wednesday that she had been charged with spying for the United States, a far more serious development than earlier statements by Iranian officials that she had been arrested for working without press credentials — and her own assertion in a phone call to her father that she was arrested after buying a bottle of wine.

An investigative judge involved in the case told Iranian state TV that Saberi was passing classified information to U.S. intelligence services.

"Under the cover of a journalist, she visited government buildings, established contacts with some of the employees, gathered classified information and sent it to the U.S. intelligence services," said the judge, who under security rules was identified only by his surname, Heidarifard.

"Her activities were discovered by the counter-espionage department of the Intelligence Ministry," Heidarifard said.

Reza Saberi said he and his wife recently visited his daughter in Evin prison where she's being held.

"We were allowed to visit her for about twenty minutes. We talked to her. She was spiritually better than before. However, she was physically extremely thin and weak but she said she eats now and is going to exercise. This gave us the hope that she will become better," Reza Saberi said.

Saberi will stand trial next week, the judge said, though he did not specify which day.

The journalist grew up in Fargo, North Dakota and is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Iran.

"She is certainly an American national. She also came to Iran and received an Iranian ID card and passport and according to Iranian law, she is Iranian too. She is actually a dual citizen," her father said.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Muslims fear FBI is spying in mosques

By Dan Herbeck

A coalition of Muslim-American groups claims the FBI has been planting counter terrorism spies in mosques in some U. S. cities. Last month, 10 Muslim-American organizations threatened to stop working with the FBI on outreach efforts in the Muslim-American community.

Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York, said he is concerned about the situation and hopes the FBI provides some answers soon.

“[Muslims] are asking questions, wondering if there are moles spying on mosques throughout the country,” Qazi told The Buffalo News. “People ask me about it, and I have to tell them the honest truth — that I don’t know if it’s happening.”

The controversy has been growing among Muslim-Americans since February, when an Irvine, Calif., fitness instructor named Craig Monteilh told reporters that the FBI paid him to infiltrate mosques in several communities in Southern California during an investigation conducted in 2006-07.

Monteilh, a former convict, told the Associated Press that FBI agents had picked him up every morning for two weeks and took him to a building in Los Angeles where he learned some Arabic and learned about Islam. After that, he said, he infiltrated several mosques as an FBI informer.

He claimed that Ahmadullah Niazi, 34, of Irvine, offered to help Monteilh attend a terrorist training camp in Yemen or Afghanistan. Niazi was charged last month with perjury, misuse of a passport and other federal crimes. The FBI alleged that he is related to a bodyguard for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

So far, the FBI has refused to confirm or deny reports that Monteilh had been hired to infiltrate mosques.

Qazi said the lack of a public explanation by the FBI is a concern to him and other American Muslim leaders who have been working with law enforcement agencies since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In January 2007, Qazi’s organization received a community leadership award from the FBI for maintaining a dialogue with law enforcement and for organizing public meetings on airline profiling, border policies and other issues.

“Those of us who are working proactively with law enforcement, the FBI needs to give us a reason for what happened in this case in California,” Qazi said. “So far, they are giving us no explanation, so we have nothing to tell people in our own community about what happened.”

Last month, the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections accused the FBI of “McCarthy-era tactics” that are “detrimental to a free society.” Qazi is a board member of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which is part of the task force.

He said the Muslim Public Affairs Council asked the national FBI office last month for an explanation of what happened in the California case but so far has not received one.

Have federal agents ever infiltrated any mosque in Western New York?

Qazi said he does not know. “I think people in any religious faith would be upset if they felt they were being spied upon,” Qazi said.

Daniel Bodony, a Buffalo FBI spokesman, said he could not comment on the California case. But he said he was not aware of the Buffalo FBI office ever sending informers into a mosque, church or any other religious institution.

“Unless there was some specific criminal activity that we were investigating, which was going on inside the mosque or church, it is something we would avoid at almost all costs,” Bodony said. “We would never send informants or undercover agents into a mosque or church just to fish for information, or to infringe on any person’s First Amendment rights.”

But one law enforcement expert said the FBI might have legitimate cause to investigate activities at a religious institution.

“If they had information about someone at a mosque or church being involved with terrorism, they would have an obligation to investigate,” said Robert Heibel, director of the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa.

Heibel, a retired FBI agent, noted that a man who spoke at a Lackawanna mosque was one of the main recruiters of the “Lackawanna Six,” the men who wound up in prison for taking part in an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.

In 1995, Sheik Omar Abdel- Rahman, a Muslim cleric from New York City, was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to destroy the U. N. building and other landmarks in that city.

Prosecutions also have targeted racist criminal gangs tied to churches, Heibel noted.

“Should the FBI give attention to potentially dangerous religious extremists?” Heibel said. “In a case like that, the agents aren’t targeting a religion. They’re targeting a potential lawbreaker.”

Iran charges US 'spy' journalist

April 9, 2009
Iranian prosecutors have charged an Iranian-American journalist with spying, a move likely to further strain Tehran's relationship with Washington.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Wednesday that the US was "deeply concerned" about the news and called for Roxana Saberi's immediate release.

"We are deeply concerned by the news that we're hearing," Clinton said. "We wish for her speedy release and return to her family."

Saberi has been held in Tehran's Evin prison since she was detained in January.

Clinton said that the US, which is embroiled in a long-running dispute with Iran over the country's nuclear programme, had asked Swiss diplomats in Tehran for the "most accurate, up-to-date information" on Saberi.

Accused of spying

Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, Saberi's lawyer, said that the journalist had been informed of the charges against her and was to appear in court next week.

Khorramshahi said he could not comment on the accusation of spying as he had not been allowed to see the legal papers.

Saberi, an American citizen whose father is Iranian, has lived in Iran for the past six years and has reported from Tehran for the BBC and for America's National Public Radio.

Iranian officials said at the time of her arrest that the US-born journalist was working in Iran with expired press credentials.

Hassan Haddad, Iran's deputy prosecutor for security issues, said that Saberi had confessed to taking part in espionage activities, Iran's English-language Press TV said.

"She has been charged and a branch of the Revolutionary Court is reviewing her case now," Isna, the Iranian news agency quoted him as saying, referring to the Iranian court that deals with security issues.

The judge in the case told Iranian state television: "Journalism for this accused ... was a cover to collect information and intelligence and transfer them to America's intelligence service."

The television gave only the judge's last name, Heydarifard.

'In good spirits'

On Monday, Saberi's parents, Reza and Akiko, who both live in the US, were allowed to visit their daughter for about 30 minutes at the prison in Evin - their first visit since she was detained.

The two said that "Roxana was in good health and in good spirits", Khoramshahi told the Associated Press news agency.

They have appealed to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, for their daughter's release.

Last week Clinton said that the US had given a letter to Iranian officials during a meeting in Europe, seeking Iran's help in resolving the cases of Saberi and of two other Americans detained in Iran.

Tehran denies receiving any such letter.

Saberi's case is likely to be dealt with by a "revolutionary court", which usually presides over matters involving state security.

Under Iran's penal code, the crime of spying can carry the death penalty.