Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, jailed in Tehran on allegations of espionage, has had her sentence reduced from 8 years to 2 years, suspended for 5 years. Iranian officials announced today that she was free to leave Evin prison immediately. Saberi, originally detained for buying a bottle of wine, was subsequently charged with reporting without government credentials, then espionage. Her trial was a 15-minute closed-door hearing in which no defense was permitted.
The case had become a major international diplomatic issue, with the US government calling the charges “baseless” and both Sec. of State Clinton and Pres. Obama repeatedly demanding her immediate release. Today, Sec. of State Clinton announced today that Saberi’s release had been confirmed, adding that she was “heartened” by the news.
Saberi’s release was confirmed by the semi-official state news agency Mehrnews. She did not immediately appear before the crowd of reporters that had gathered at the gray metal gate of Evin Prison in northwest Tehran. Saberi’s attorney, Abdolsamad Khorramshai, said Saberi apparently had been sent out of the prison through another door.
Saberi had undertaken a hunger-strike in protest of her detention and has been described in recent days as being gaunt and frail. Her father just yesterday said he was concerned that if her sentence were upheld, she would starve herself to death, in protest or in despair. Iran’s Pres. Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, considered a hardline ideologue and fierce opponent of the US, had ordered prosecutors to permit Saberi to present a complete defense.
In a 5-hour hearing yesterday, Saberi’s lawyers presented her defense and argued that the charges were illegitimate and that the process used to convict her violated due process requirements. No specifics about the defense arguments have been released so far, and the courts have not made the proceedings public.
Her attorney told the press that his client was free to leave Iran after her release and that “They explained [to] me that the two years were conditional and would not be carried out if she would not commit any crimes in the coming five years”. Though Saberi’s release may signal a slight thaw in Washington-Tehran relations, there are still at least 7 journalists in jail in Iran, and observers note that Iran may be trying to curry favor with the release.
- Originally published 11 May 2009, at CafeSentido.com