Saberi's Jail Sentence Suspended, Allowed To Leave Iran
By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Roxana Saberi walked out of Tehran's Evin prison today
Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi has been
freed from a Tehran prison. The move follows a decision by an Iranian appeals
court to reduce her original eight-year prison term on spying charges to a
two-year suspended sentence. The surprise twist in the journalist's saga came a
day after an appeals court in Tehran held a hearing on her case.
The appeal, which was presided over by three judges,
cleared the 32-year-old Saberi of the charge of working as a spy for an enemy
country, the United States.
"The verdict says that due to the fact that there is no reason to prove that
there is animosity between Iran and the U.S., the charge against [Saberi] that
she worked with an enemy government is not applicable," one of Saberi's two
lawyers, Saleh Nikbakht, tells RFE/RL.
"But because [Saberi] has conducted activities that can be defined as acting
against Iran's national security, based on Article 505 of the Islamic punishment
law, she is being sentenced to two-year suspended prison sentence," he adds.
Nikbakht says the court has banned Saberi from reporting in Iran for five years,
but said she is now free to leave Iran.
Saberi's case and initial sentencing to eight years in prison was met with
international outcry. While the appeals court's ruling did not completely clear
Saberi's name, it came as a relief for the numerous individuals and groups who
campaigned for her release.
"She is in good condition, and we are very happy that they gave us such a
[breakthrough]," Saberi's father, Reza Saberi, said in reacting to the decision.
"I think that in the court that was held [May 10], legal principles were very
much respected, since yesterday we realized that the situation would change in
the court," he says.
French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also welcomed the
decision. But as RSF spokesman Reza Moini tells RFE/RL, the case serves to
epitomize the formidable obstacles faced by the media in Iran.
"[The case] puts into question the freedom of journalists for reporting," Moini
says. "It was not the first time. A number of Iranian journalists have been
sentenced to prison for the same charge, but fortunately all of them were later
acquitted. We don't accept the court but we're happy about the sentence for
Saberi and we hope that all the other jailed journalists in Iran will be
Moini said international and domestic criticism of the Saberi jailing aided her
Saberi, who holds dual Iranian and U.S. citizenship, had been working in Iran as
a freelance journalist since 2003.
She was jailed in Iran in January. The original charges against her included
buying alcohol, which is illegal in the Islamic republic, and reporting from
Iran after her press accreditation had expired.
She was eventually charged with more serious charge of spying for the United
States, and in April a revolutionary court sentenced her to prison.
The United States had described the charges as baseless and called for her
Iran, in turn, rejected outside interference in the case and said that she would
be treated no differently than any other Iranian citizen.
While Iranian officials had said that the case was not political, some observers
described Saberi as a victim of the tense relations between Tehran and
Nikbakht says that Saberi's defense focused to a large extent on the nature of
ties between Iran and the United States.
"We gave the court documents that stated that Iran and the U.S. are not
enemies," he says. "We also presented a court decision made by Iran's Supreme
Court in the past that showed that Iran and the U.S. have disagreements, but
that they're not enemies based on international laws. The court made its
decision and issued this positive sentence in such a short time based on the
documents and also based on its own research."
Nikbakht added that there had been "other efforts" to push for Saberi's release,
but declined to provide details of what those efforts entailed.
Many Iran observers had predicted that Saberi would be released, just as other
Iranian-Americans detained in Iran on security charges had been in recent years.
In some of those cases, the detained are believed to have been forced to make
false statements, after which they were allowed to leave the country.
Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org