An Iranian court has convicted American journalist Roxana Saberi of spying for the US and sentenced her to eight years in prison. The harsh sentence and lack of supporting evidence have brought condemnation from the freelancer’s employers and the US government.
“Roxana was tried in secret and no evidence of espionage has been made public,” said the BBC, one of the news organizations for which Saberi had filed reports from Iran.
NPR reported that Saberi’s father, who was born in Iran, has vowed to appeal her conviction. He said she was tricked into signing some documents after being promised she would then be released. Instead, she was put on trial. The young woman has been held in an Iranian jail since being arrested January 31st. She was originally accused of buying alcohol, then of practicing journalism without a license and finally of espionage. NPR said Saberi and her Iranian lawyer were not permitted to review the evidence against her or to mount a defense.
“We are deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence. Ms. Saberi has already endured a three month confinement in Evin Prison, and we are very concerned for her well-being. Through her work for NPR over several years, we know her as an established and respected professional journalist. We appeal to all of those who share our concerns to ask that the Iranian authorities show compassion and allow her to return home to the Untied States immediately with her parents,” said NPR President & CEO Vivian Schiller in a statement sent to RBR/TVBR.
The Radio and Television News Directors Association called on the Iranian government to release the reporter and allow her to leave the country immediately. “The sentence of 8 years in prison for espionage is particularly disturbing,” said RTNDA President Barbara Cochran. “The freedom for journalists to work and report cannot simply be limited by decree, or be reduced by pressure or prison,” she added.
In a statement issued by the White House, President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” by the Iranian court’s action. The conviction of an American journalist is widely viewed as a setback to the new administration’s efforts to move toward normalized relations with the Iranian government.
“We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Roxana Saberi’s trial lacked transparency and we are concerned that she may not have been treated fairly,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We call on the Iranian authorities to release her on bail pending her appeal,” he said in a statement.