US reporter free after Iran jail term suspended

12th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Saberi’s father, who has been in the country since March to push for the release of his daughter, said he will take her back home to the United States ‘as soon as possible.’

Tehran -- US-born reporter Roxana Saberi walked free from a Tehran jail on Monday after an Iranian court reduced her prison term for spying to a two-year suspended sentence.

"I'm okay. I don't want to make any comments but I am OK," Saberi told AFP minutes after leaving the notorious Evin prison and being driven away by her father.

It ends a five-month ordeal for Saberi, who was initially detained in January and sentenced last month to an eight-year jail term on charges of spying for the United States.

"The verdict of the previous court has been quashed," her lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said. "Her punishment has been changed to a suspended two-year sentence."

Saberi's father, who has been in the country since March to push for his daughter’s release, greeted the ruling with joy and relief. He said he will take his daughter back home to the United States "as soon as possible."

Iran's judiciary said the sentence would be suspended for five years, and a judicial source told AFP that the 32-year-old journalist would be free to leave the country.

"She's free to do what she wants as any other citizen who has a passport and can come and go as they want," the source said.

Her release comes just a day after a Tehran court heard a closed-door appeal by Saberi, who was initially detained in January reportedly for buying alcohol, an illegal act in the Islamic republic.

The case triggered deep concern in Washington, which dismissed the spying charges as baseless, and among human rights groups.

Saberi had been accused of "cooperating with a hostile state," a charge which carries a prison term of one to 10 years.

But Nikbakht said the appeal court had quashed the initial verdict issued on April 13 on the grounds that the United States and Iran could not be defined as hostile towards each other.

"She was sentenced to two years suspended for gathering secret documents," he said.

Her father, who had arrived in Iran from the United States in March to seek her release, voiced delight at her release.

"We are very happy," Reza Saberi told AFP. "We are going to Evin prison to take her home."

He told Al-Jazeera television that he saw his daughter on Sunday and that "she is feeling well," but had lost weight.

The former US beauty queen launched a hunger strike on April 21 in protest at the sentence, taking in only water or sugared water, but she ended it after about two weeks after being briefly hospitalised in the prison clinic.

The sentence against Saberi was the harshest ever meted out to a dual national on security charges in Iran and came just weeks after new American President Barack Obama proposed dialogue with Tehran after three decades of severed ties.

Obama himself said that he was "especially concerned" about Saberi but Iran insisted the case was an internal matter and urged foreign states especially her native United States not to "interfere."

However, shortly after the eight-year sentence was announced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi called for a fair appeal.

Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality, has said Saberi had continued working "illegally" after her press card was revoked in 2006.

Saberi, who is also of Japanese origin, has reported for US National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News, and has lived in Iran for the past six years.

Iran has detained several US-Iranians, including academics, on suspicions of harming national security in recent years but they were all released within months.

Aresu Eqbali/AFP/Expatica

0 Comments To This Article