TEHRAN, Iran – An American journalist jailed for more than two months in Iran has been charged with spying for the U.S., a judge said Wednesday, dashing hopes of a quick release days after her parents arrived in the country seeking her freedom.
The espionage charge is far more serious than earlier statements by Iranian officials that the woman had been arrested for working in the Islamic Republic without press credentials and her own assertion in a phone call to her father that she was arrested after buying a bottle of wine.
Roxana Saberi, who grew up in Fargo, N.D., and is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Iran, has been living in Iran for six years. She has reported from there for several news organizations, including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.
An investigative judge involved in the case told state TV that Saberi was passing classified information to U.S. intelligence services.
“Under the cover of a journalist, she visited government buildings, established contacts with some of the employees, gathered classified information and sent it to the U.S. intelligence services,” said the judge.
Saberi will stand trial next week, the judge said, though he did not specify which day.
The announcement of espionage charges got the attention of the Obama administration, which has been pushing for her release.
“We are deeply concerned by the news that we’re hearing,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters at the State Department, adding that the administration has asked Swiss diplomats in Iran for the “most accurate, up-to-date information” on Saberi. Though the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran, it has an interests section at the Swiss Embassy.
The 31-year-old freelance reporter was arrested in late January. Her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said Saberi has been informed of the espionage charge against her and that he plans to request that she be released on bail until the trial.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Iran for arresting journalists and suppressing freedom of speech. The government has arrested several Iranian-Americans in the past few years, citing alleged attempts to overthrow its Islamic government.
Saberi’s parents visited their daughter Monday in Evin prison, north of the capital, Tehran.
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