Reporters Without Borders welcomes a Tehran appeal court’s decision to reduce Roxana Saberi’s eight-year jail term to a suspended two-year sentence. Her lawyer, Saleh Nikbakhat, confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that she could be freed later today. In a closed hearing yesterday, the court’s judges noted that Iran and the United States “are not at war.”
10.05.2009 - Court hears Roxana Saberi’s appeal, urged to quash her conviction on spying charge
A Tehran appeal court today heard Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi’s appeal against her conviction on a charge of spying for the United States. The hearing was closed but, unlike the original trial, which resulted in Saberi getting an eight-year jail sentence, it lasted several hours and Saberi’s lawyers were able to present arguments in her defence. The appeal court is expected to issue its ruling in a few days.
“The short space of time between the original trial and the appeal, the length of the appeal hearing and the fact that her lawyers were allowed to speak in her defence are all encouraging signs,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But we must not jump to conclusions as the Iranian judicial system often produces surprises.”
The press freedom organisation added : “We had urged the authorities to allow Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi of the Human Rights Defenders Centre to attend the hearing but they did not. If this court is to render justice to Saberi, it must quash her conviction and free her without delay.”
Reporters Without Borders spoke to Saberi’s two lawyers - Saleh Nikbakhat and Abdolsamad Khoramshahi - after today’s hearing. Nikbakhat said he was “confident and optimistic.” He was able to speak for almost two hours, presenting arguments based on past cases of journalists who have been acquitted of spying charges. “If the court takes account of these arguments, Roxana will have to be freed,” he said, adding that, “although the hearing was closed, the court adhered to the law.” Khoramshahi, who also said he was “optimistic”, added that the court had week to issue its verdict.
The daughter of an Iranian father who lives in the United States and who acquired US citizenship, Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked for various international news media including the BBC, Fox News and the US public radio network NPR. Arrested at the end of January, she was initially accused of working illegally as a journalist but was finally tried on a spying charge, one the Iranian authorities often use to silence journalists.
Several Iranian-American citizens, including journalists, have been arrested in Iran in recent years but Saberi is the first one to be tried and given a jail sentence. Her trial was held on 13 April and the sentence was issued five days later.
Iran was ranked 166th out of 173 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. A wave of arrests on 1 May brought the total number of journalists and bloggers currently held in Iran to 14. Three of them are women.