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An American journalist jailed in Iran has been convicted of spying and sentenced to eight years in prison, her lawyer said Saturday, dashing any hopes for her quick release.
The verdict was the first time Iran has found an American journalist guilty of spying, and it was unclear how the conviction would affect recent overtures by the Obama administration for better relations and engagement with Washington's longtime adversary.
Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen, was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But earlier this month, an Iranian judge leveled a far more serious allegation, charging her with spying for the United States.
The deputy prosecutor for the Revolutionary Court had told Iranian news media that Saberi, who holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, confessed to the charges.
Saberi's father, Reza, who traveled to Iran to visit his daughter and follow the trial, told the 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 wanted to go on a hunger strike "to draw the attention of the Iranian authorities who have sentenced her without justifiable cause."
The timing of the sentencing indicated that Iranian politics might be at play, including a move by conservatives to scuttle chances for rapprochement with Washington or to use the journalist as a bargaining chip for the release of Iranian officials held in Iraq on suspicion of spying.
Iranian President Asks Court to Reconsider Spy Case
TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a rare effort to intervene in the justice system, urged Tehran’s chief prosecutor on Sunday to fairly examine the cases of an Iranian-American journalist and an Iranian-Canadian blogger.
The Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, has been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for Washington, her lawyer reported Saturday. The other detainee is Hossein Derakhshan, a blogger who has been jailed since November without any official charges.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, who will be attending an international conference on racism on Monday and is expected to seek re-election in June, may be seeking to cast himself as a defender of human rights, analysts said. He may also be trying to prevent radical forces from sabotaging a possible reconciliation between Iran and the United States.
In her first in-depth interview, Saberi tells NPR about the events that led to her arrest on Jan. 31, her four months in a Tehran prison, why she gave a false confession, and her take on evidence that was used against her that resulted in a speedy trial on April 13. Saberi, who lived in Iran for six years and reported for NPR among other news organizations, was sentenced to eight years in prison by an Iranian court.
In a turn of events, Saberi was freed May 11 after her sentence was reduced to a suspended two-year term. She tells NPR that to this day she doesn't know why she was arrested — or why she was freed.