22 April 2009

Freelancer Roxana Saberi convicted of spying

Roxana Saberi
Roxana Saberi
Seamus Burns

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Iran convicted an American-Iranian journalist of spying for the United States and sentenced her to eight years in prison, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI).

Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old freelancer, was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But this month, an Iranian judge charged her with spying for the U.S., and last week she was sentenced following an unusually swift one-day, closed-door trial.

Her father, Reza Saberi, told National Public Radio (NPR) from Tehran that he was not allowed into the courtroom to hear the verdict.

"Roxana Saberi's trial lacked transparency and we are concerned that she may not have been treated fairly," said CPJ. "We call on the Iranian authorities to release her on bail pending her appeal."

According to news reports, it was the first time Iran has found a U.S. journalist guilty of espionage - a crime that can carry the death penalty.

Living in Iran since 2003, the Fargo, North Dakota native had freelanced for several news organisations, including NPR and the BBC.

More than 10,000 people worldwide signed a CPJ petition urging that Saberi receive due process and be released as quickly as possible. CPJ presented the petition to the Islamic Republic of Iran's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York in March.

This week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's office sent a letter to the public prosecutor asking him to ensure that Saberi and jailed Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan are given an opportunity to exercise all legal rights.

CPJ and RSF are currently coordinating an IFEX member joint statement campaigning for her release. The U.S. State Department has also sought Saberi's release, saying Iran would gain U.S. goodwill if it "responded in a positive way" to the case.

Iran has come under scrutiny before for its treatment of political prisoners, especially at Evin Prison, say the IFEX members. Omidreza Mirsayafi, a blogger serving a 30-month sentence on a charge of insulting religious figures, died at the prison in March under mysterious circumstances. In 2003 Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, died after being detained for three weeks. She was arrested for taking pictures outside the prison.

In addition to Saberi, at least five Iranian journalists are currently in jail in Iran, says CPJ.

CPJ has created a guide on how to help Saberi.
Click here

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