Iran convicts U.S. journalist of spying
— An American journalist jailed in Iran has been convicted of spying and
sentenced to eight years in prison just days after she was tried behind
closed doors, her lawyer said Saturday, dashing any hopes for her quick
Roxana Saberi's Iranian-born father said his daughter was tricked
into making incriminating statements by officials who told her they would
free her if she did.
It was the first time Iran has found an American journalist guilty of
spying, and it was unclear how it would affect recent overtures by the Obama
administration for better relations and engagement with Washington's
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was “deeply
disappointed” by the conviction.
Ms. Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen, was arrested in late
January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But earlier
this month, an Iranian judge levelled a far more serious allegation, charging
her with spying for the United States.
She appeared before an Iranian court behind closed doors on Monday in an
unusually swift one-day trial. Her lawyer was permitted to attend, but had
declined to discuss any details.
The Fargo, North Dakota native had been living in Iran for six years and had
worked as a freelance reporter for several news organizations including National
Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.
“Saberi has been sentenced to eight years in jail. I'll definitely appeal the
verdict,” lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi told The Associated Press.
Reza Saberi told NPR his daughter denied the incriminating statements she
made when she realized she had been tricked but “apparently in the case they
didn't consider her denial.”
He said his daughter was convicted Wednesday, but the court waited until
Saturday to announce the verdict to the lawyers. He is in Iran but was not
allowed into the courtroom to see his daughter, who he described as “quite
North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan called on the Iranian government to “show
compassion” and release Ms. Saberi. “This is a shocking miscarriage of justice,”
the Democrat said in a statement issued Saturday.
Ms. Clinton said in a statement the U.S. is working with Swiss diplomats in
Iran to get details about the court's decision and to ensure Ms. Saberi's
well-being. She said the U.S. will “vigorously raise our concerns” with the
The United States has called the charges against Ms. Saberi baseless and has
demanded her release, and the conviction and prison sentence could put strains
on efforts to improve ties.
President Barack Obama has said it wants to engage Iran in talks on its
nuclear program and other issues — a departure from the tough talk of the Bush
Iran has been mostly lukewarm to the overtures, but Iran's hard-line
president gave the clearest signal yet on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic
was also willing to start a new relationship with Washington.
In a speech, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran was preparing new
proposals aimed at breaking an impasse with the West over its nuclear program.
But it was uncertain how Washington would react to Ms. Saberi's conviction.
On Thursday, the State Department said Ms. Saberi's jailing was not helpful and
that Iran would gain U.S. good will if it “responded in a positive way” to the
Some conservative Iranian lawmakers played down Ms. Saberi's conviction,
saying the verdict would not affect any ongoing efforts to build trust between
Washington and Iran.
“Although there is a wall of mistrust between Iran and the United States, the
judicial verdict won't affect possible future talks between the two countries.
The verdict is based on evidence,” said lawmaker Hosseini Sobhaninia.
The United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran after its 1979
Islamic revolution and takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Relations
deteriorated further under the former president George W. Bush, who labelled
Iran as part of the so-called “Axis of Evil” along with Saddam Hussein's Iraq
and North Korea.
Iran's judiciary is dominated by hard-liners, which some analysts say are
trying to derail efforts to improve U.S.-Iran relations.
Ms. Saberi's conviction comes about two months ahead of key presidential
elections in June. Mr. Ahmadinejad is seeking re-election, but the hard-liner's
popularity has waned as Iran's economy struggles with high-inflation and
unemployment. The June 12 vote is pitting the hard-liners against reformists —
led by a former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi — who support better
relations with the U.S.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Iran for arresting journalists
and suppressing freedom of speech. The government has arrested several
Iranian-Americans in the past few years, citing alleged attempts to overthrow
its Islamic government through what it calls a “soft revolution.” But they were
never put on trial and were eventually released from prison.
Journalist watchdog groups criticized the conviction. The New York-based
Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement on Saturday that her trial
“We call on the Iranian authorities to release her on bail pending her
appeal,” Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the group's Middle East and North Africa program
co-ordinator, said in the statement.
NPR released a statement saying it was “deeply distressed by this harsh and
Iran has released few details about the charges against Ms. Saberi. Iranian
officials initially said she had been arrested for working in the Islamic
Republic without press credentials and she had told her father in a phone
conversation that she was arrested after buying a bottle of wine.
An Iranian investigative judge involved in the case charged that Ms. Saberi
was passing classified information to U.S. intelligence services.
Her parents, who travelled to Iran from their home in Fargo in a bid to help
win their daughter's release, could not immediately be reached for comment on
Ms. Saberi's father has said his daughter, who was Miss North Dakota in 1997,
had been working on a book about the culture and people of Iran, and hoped to
finish it and return to the United States this year.
“I'll bet my bottom dollar she has not been spying,” said Marilyn McGinley,
president of the Miss North Dakota pageant, who said she has kept in touch with
the journalist through telephone calls and e-mails.
“She is not a spy. She loved the people over there and her intention of going
over there was to learn about her culture,” she said.
is simply another hostage - its an "international problem" that will be
addressed just as soon as the United States and Iran sit down together behind
closed doors to discuss their mutual interests which both need urgently and
desperately. Any delay in that meeting causes them both expensive penalties that
neither wishes to incur but will occur if the issue of mutual face saving is not
So, watch the sports, the arts and education for the cracks in their dogma to
If anyone can solve this problem expeditiously, and expeditiously may be several
years, President Obama can be expected to pull the appropriate rabbit out of the
- Posted 18/04/09 at 10:35 PM EDT