Iran puts US-Iranian reporter on trial for spying

15th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality and has had no ties with the US for three decades, has detained several Iranian-Americans, including academics, in recent years.

Tehran -- US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi has been put on trial before a revolutionary court on charges of spying for Iran's arch-foe the United States, an official said on Tuesday.

"Yesterday, the first session of the trial was held and she was given an opportunity to speak in the court to present her defence," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters.

He said Saberi, who has been held in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran since January, is accused of "spying for foreigners ... for America."

Saberi, a 31-year-old with dual Iranian-US nationality, risks the death penalty if convicted by the court, which met in closed session on Monday.

Iran's decision to put Saberi on trial comes despite calls by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her release and US President Barack Obama's diplomatic overtures to Iran.

Jamshidi said the verdict was expected in one or two weeks.

Saberi's parents Reza and Akiko Saberi, who are in Tehran to pursue her case, met their daughter in prison on Tuesday.

"We met Roxana today for a few minutes and she is doing well," her father Reza Saberi told AFP. "We are waiting for the judge to make a decision. It (the verdict) should come out in a week. There is always hope. But we don't know what will happen."

Jamshidi dismissed remarks by US State Department spokesman Robert Wood who said last week that the charges against Saberi were "baseless."

"It is really funny that someone comments on a case without even seeing it," Jamshidi said.

Saberi was reportedly initially detained for buying alcohol, which is prohibited in Iran.

Last week Tehran's deputy prosecutor Hassan Haddad said Saberi was carrying out "spying activities under the guise of being a reporter."

"The evidence is mentioned in her case papers and she has accepted all the charges," he added.

In March, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said Saberi's press card was revoked in 2006 and since then she had been working "illegally."

Haddad said Saberi had entered Iran as an Iranian citizen and "there is no evidence that she has another citizenship."

US-born Saberi has reported for US-based National Public Radio (NPR), the BBC and Fox News, and had lived in Iran for six years.

Saberi's parents have met her at least twice in prison.

After their first meeting earlier this month, her father told NPR that Saberi wanted to see her lawyer to point out that some of the statements she made were "under pressure, under threat."

Last month the parents appealed to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for her release, saying she was in a "dangerous" mental state.

Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality and has had no ties with the United States for three decades, has detained several Iranian-Americans, including academics, in recent years.

Clinton delivered a letter to the Iranians at an international conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on March 31, seeking Saberi's release and making appeals on behalf of two other US citizens.

Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, vanished on the Gulf island of Kish two years ago, and student Esha Momeni has been prevented from leaving Iran despite being released from jail last year.

Iran often accuses the United States -- dubbed the Great Satan -- and Britain of plotting to overthrow of the Islamic regime.

In January, Iran announced it had dismantled a network allegedly funded by the United States to topple the regime by triggering social upheaval, and arrested four people including two doctors.

Reformist newspaper Sarmayeh, quoting the Journalists' Association of Iran, reported that authorities have jailed 14 local journalists and revoked the permits of 34 publications over the year to March 20.

Iranian media -- a myriad of newspapers, Internet news sites and news agencies of all political hues -- has been hit by a string of closures under the current administration of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hiedeh Farmani/AFP/Expatica

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