Monday, May 11, 2009

Roxana Saberi Released from Iranian Prison

Via LATimes -

Authorities released Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi from a Tehran prison today after an Iranian appeals court suspended her sentence on an espionage charge, said an Iranian judiciary official.

Saberi's sentence was trimmed from eight years in prison to a two-year suspended sentence after a lengthy appeals court hearing today, attorney Abdul-Samad Khorramshahi said in a telephone interview from the Iranian capital.

Saberi, 32, wept with relief as a judge announced the ruling at a 2 p.m. hearing today, Khorramshahi said.

"I saw her tears of joy and this was the best moment," he said shortly after the ruling. "Possibly today she will be freed."

By late afternoon she had been released, Ali Reza Jamshidi, the spokesman for Iran's judiciary branch told the Mehr News Agency. Her lawyers said she was free to leave the country immediately.

Though her sentence has been reduced, the espionage conviction will stand.

"Suspended sentence means if she commits a crime her dossier will be updated," said Saberi's father.

Saberi, a Northwestern University journalism school graduate and longtime North Dakota resident, has lived in her father's native country for six years, working as a journalist for various news outlets including NPR, BBC and Fox News.

She was arrested in late January, interrogated for weeks and charged with collecting and passing on information to U.S. intelligence operatives. She was convicted and sentenced last month after a trial that lasted less than an hour.

Saleh Nikbakht, one of Saberi's attorneys, said the appellate court had ruled that the branch of Iran's Revolutionary Court that tried her had applied the wrong article of the penal code, according to an interview reported by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.

Political and international considerations may have also influenced the court's decision. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, facing a tough election challenge next month, made an unusual public call for the appellate court to carefully review Saberi's case amid mounting public pressure for her release.

The suspension of the sentence helps Ahmadinejad, said an aide to one of his rivals. "Roxana's release works for the public relations of the incumbent president," said the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Khorramshahi said the outcome of the Saberi case was one of the most satisfying he had ever pursued. "This was the judge's decision," he said. "We're not sure why. But we're very happy, and we say, 'Thank you.' "

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