Iran Frees Jailed US-born Journalist: Lawyer
Tuesday, 12 May 2009

US-born journalist Roxana Saberi walked free Monday after an Iranian appeals court cut her eight-year jail sentence for spying to a suspended two-year term in a case that had further strained US-Iranian relations.

Saberi, whose was jailed on April 18 on charges of spying for the United States, would be allowed to leave the Islamic Republic but it was not immediately clear when she would do so, her lawyers and a judiciary source said.

The 32-year-old freelance journalist and former Miss Dakota was released from Tehran's Evin prison. "She has just left and is on the way to their house," defense lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi said.

A citizen of both the United States and Iran, Saberi was arrested in late January for working in the Islamic Republic after her press credentials had expired. She was later charged with espionage, a charge that can carry the death sentence.

Her case became a problem for Tehran and Washington at a time when US President Barack Obama sought to reach out to the Islamic state after three decades of mutual mistrust.

The United States said the espionage charges against Saberi, who moved to Iran six years ago, were baseless and demanded her immediate release.

The two countries were already locked in an acrimonious dispute over nuclear work that the West fears is aimed at making weapons, an allegation that Iran flatly denies.

Obama has offered a new beginning of engagement with Tehran if "you are willing to unclench your fist." Iran says the United States must show real change in policy toward it.


Saberi's father Reza said he and his Japanese wife had gone to Evin to "bring our daughter back home," apparently referring to the United States, where he moved in the 1970s. "We will go back as soon as possible," he told Reuters. "We are very happy."

The development came one day after an appeals court held a hearing on the case of Saberi, who has worked for the BBC and US National Public Radio.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month called for Saberi to be given full legal rights to defend herself and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Saberi's case would be reviewed based on "human and Islamic kindness."

Khorramshahi said Monday that the sentence had been changed but that Saberi would be banned from doing any reporting work in Iran for five years.

"There are no obstacles for her leaving the country and she can leave Iran freely," said her other lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht.

Saberi looked thin and tired at Sunday's court session. Last week, her father said she had ended a two-week hunger strike and was "very weak." The judiciary denied she had refused food and said she was in good health.

Tehran, which does not recognize dual nationality, said throughout the case that Washington should respect the independence of Iran's judiciary.

Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders last month said Saberi's conviction was a warning to foreign journalists working in Iran ahead of its presidential election in June.

It said seven journalists were imprisoned in Iran, which it said was ranked 166th out of 173 countries in its latest press freedom index.

Iran denies Western allegations it is seeking to stifle dissenting voices. The government says it welcomes constructive criticism and upholds the principle of free speech.


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