Saturday, April 18, 2009

Iranian Court Sentences Roxana Saberi to Eight Years

An Iranian revolutionary court has convicted American journalist Roxana Saberi of spying and sentenced her to eight years in prison after a closed one-day trial.

Her father, Reza Saberi, told NPR's Scott Simon from Tehran that he was not allowed into the courtroom to hear the verdict. Saberi's lawyer was not allowed to ask the court about bail. She has been jailed at Evin Prison in Iran since Jan. 31.

NPR reports that Reza says Roxana wants to go on a hunger strike "to draw the attention of the Iranian authorities who have sentenced her without justifiable cause." He notes, however, that she is weak and "if she does [go on a hunger strike], it can be very dangerous to her health."

Agence France-Presse is quoting Reza as saying her daughter was tricked into confessing. "Roxana said in court that her earlier confessions were not true and she told me she had been tricked into believing that she would be released if she co-operated. Her denial is documented in her case, but apparently they did not pay attention to it," he said. "We are very shocked and we were not expecting it.

"We were hoping for six months and then clemency."

The deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Robert Mahoney, says her sentence is too harsh.

"We believe that Roxana Saberi's trial was not transparent," he said. "And it does not seem that she has been treated fairly. We would call on the Iranian authorities to release her on bail pending appeal because we believe she should not be confined in Evin prison."

NPR's CEO Vivian Schiller has appealed to the Iranian government to show compassion and allow Saberi to return immediately to the United States.

Saberi, 31, an Iranian-American freelancer from Fargo, N.D., was first detained in January, although no formal charges were disclosed. She told her family that she was initially held for buying a bottle of wine. A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry said later that Saberi, left, was being detained at Tehran's Evin Prison for reporting ‎without proper accreditation.

CPJ reports that political prisoners are often jailed at Evin Prison.

At least two journalists have died ‎there in the last six years amid circumstances that have not been fully explained, ‎CPJ research shows.‎ 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 July 2003, Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died from a brain hemorrhage that resulted from a beating at Evin Prison. An intelligence agent charged in the killing was acquitted after a flawed trial. Kazemi had been jailed because she took photographs outside the prison.

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