April 19, 2009 in Nation/World

Iranian-American gets 8-year term

Obama ‘disappointed’; she’s ex-Miss N.D.
Ramin Mostaghim And Jeffrey Fleishman Los Angeles Times
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian-American journalist accused of spying for the U.S. was sentenced Saturday by an Iranian court to eight years in prison, a move likely to strain the Obama administration’s recent overtures to improve relations with Iran.

Roxana Saberi, 31, who had reported for the BBC and National Public Radio, faced espionage charges during a trial Monday before Iran’s Revolutionary Court.

“The eight-year sentence is true. I will appeal the verdict,” said Saberi’s lawyer, Abdul-Samad Khorramshahi.

It was not known if she was convicted Saturday or after her court appearance.

Saberi, who was arrested nearly three months ago and is being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison, could have received as many as 10 years in prison or even the death penalty. She was charged with spying on Iran, in the guise of a journalist, and passing information and documents to U.S. intelligence services.

The U.S. had condemned the accusations against Saberi as “baseless and without foundation.”

On Saturday, President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” by the conviction, a White House spokesman said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. would “continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government. Our thoughts are with her parents and family during this difficult time.”

The sentencing followed indications Thursday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Islamic Republic wanted to improve relations with the West and would offer proposals to resolve the standoff over his country’s nuclear program.

It is uncertain what effect Saberi’s case will have on U.S. diplomatic strategy, but it puts pressure on Obama at a time when Iran’s influence in the Middle East is growing.

“This is a shocking miscarriage of justice,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

Saberi grew up in the northern Plains state and was named Miss North Dakota in 1997. Dorgan added in a statement that the “Iranian government has held a secret trial, will not make public any evidence, and sentenced an American citizen to eight years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. I call on the Iranian government to show compassion.”

The deputy prosecutor for the Revolutionary Court had told Iran’s media that Saberi, who holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenships, confessed to the charges.

Saberi’s father, Reza, who traveled to Iran to visit his daughter and follow the trial, told Agence France-Presse news agency: “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 cooperated. … Her denial is documented in her case, but apparently they did not pay attention to it.”

In an interview with NPR, Reza Saberi said his daughter wants to go on a hunger strike “to draw the attention of the Iranian authorities who have sentenced her without justifiable cause.”

Saberi had been living in Tehran for six years. Iranian authorities rescinded her media credentials in 2006, but she continued working on a book and reporting for media outlets.

The timing of the sentencing indicated that Iranian politics might be at play, including a move by conservatives to scuttle chances for rapprochement with the U.S. or to use the journalist as a bargaining chip for the U.S. to release Iranian spies held in Iraq.

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