National Public Radio reports that American journalist Roxana Saberi has been released from an Iranian prison after her sentence was reduced and then suspended. The freelancer, who had reported for NPR, BBC and Fox News, among others, had been held since January and convicted of spying for the US government in a one-day secret trial.
“We are immensely grateful that the appeals court has ruled in Roxana’s favor and are relieved that she is now free to return home with her family,” said NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller. “Her story highlights the enormous challenges journalists face in many countries, and the unfortunate fact that freedom of the press cannot be taken for granted. In Roxana’s case, the story has a happy ending, and we are delighted that she will once again be free to practice her profession,” Schiller said.
The appeals court reduced the charge against Saberi, based on her attorney’s argument that Iran and the United States were not at war. Her eight-year sentence was thus reduced and then suspended, with only a requirement that she not commit a crime in Iran for the next five years. She is free to leave the country and is expected to do so.
Iranian authorities continue to insist that the process was legal and that justice was done. That view is not shared by US officials.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) told NPR that Saberi’s release was “wonderful news.” The journalist is a native of his state and a former Miss North Dakota before her career in journalism. “I felt it was a miscarriage of justice. This young woman was not engaged in espionage,” Dorgan told NPR.
At the White House, Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama was relieved by Saberi’s release. “We know this has been a trying time for her family and friends and [the President ] looks forward to welcoming her home to the United States. We want to continue to stress that she was wrongly accused but we welcome this humanitarian gesture,” Gibbs said.
“This is absolutely incredible news,” said Dave Aeikens, President of the Society of Professional Journalists, after learning of Saberi’s release. “Iran has a long way to go in guaranteeing freedom of the press, but this is one small indication that there is hope for the future,” Aeikens added.
RBR/TVBR observation: A relief for all of us, but a reminder that it is still dangerous to practice journalism in some parts of the world. The Society of Professional Journalists, which had been urging Saberi’s release, notes that American reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling are still being held by North Korea after the journalists from Current TV were apprehended in March while filming a documentary along the China-North Korea border.