13 May 2009

Roxana Saberi freed

Roxana Saberi leaving Iran
Roxana Saberi leaving Iran

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IFEX members welcomed the release of U.S. Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, whose eight-year jail term for spying for the U.S. was this week reduced to a suspended two-year sentence and a five-year ban on reporting from Iran.

Her fiancé, filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi, her parents and her lawyers greeted her as she emerged from Tehran's Evin prison on 11 May. Her father told reporters she would be leaving the country in the coming days.

"This is excellent news," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said. "The appeal court's decision to free her can be used as a legal precedent for other journalists currently detained in Iran."

In a closed-door session that lasted five hours, a Tehran court heard Saberi's appeal against her original eight-year sentence on 10 May. Although exact details about the charges against Saberi have still not been made public, the BBC reported that the initial charge of "passing secret information" had been reduced to "having access to classified information," allowing for the commuted sentence.

Saberi's case sparked international attention. IFEX members mounted vigorous campaigns for her release. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) circulated a petition calling for Saberi's release that garnered more than 10,000 signatures, and along with 34 other IFEX members called on Iran's judiciary to free her. U.S. President Barack Obama was among those who appealed on her behalf.

Saberi has been held in Tehran's Evin prison since her arrest in January. Living in Iran since 2003, the Fargo, North Dakota native had freelanced for several news organisations, including NPR and the BBC.

IFEX members continue to call on the Iranian government to safeguard the rights of other journalists currently in jail. According to RSF, six journalists and cyber-dissidents were arrested on 1 May in Tehran during May Day demonstrations.

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