Iran May Reconsider Jail Term for US Journalist

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran may reconsider an eight-year jail term
for an American journalist during her appeal, the judiciary
spokesman said Tuesday in an indication her sentence will be
commuted.

The statement was the latest hint Iran could be backing off from
the imprisonment of 31-year-old Roxana Saberi on charges of spying
for the U.S. On Monday, the judiciary chief ordered a full
investigation into the case, a day after President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad urged Tehran's chief prosecutor to ensure Saberi be
allowed a full defense during her appeal.

The case has been a source of tension with the U.S. at a time
when President Barack Obama is trying to open a dialogue with Iran
to end a decades-long diplomatic standoff. The U.S. has called the
accusations against Saberi, a dual American-Iranian citizen,
baseless and demanded her release.

"We can't influence the judge's verdict (but hope) the verdict
will be reconsidered at the appeals court," the official IRNA news
agency quoted judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi as saying. The
statement was seen as a rare prediction from the judiciary about a
pending case.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the
U.S. wanted to see "a transparent appeals process."

"We are working with our allies to press the government in
Tehran to disclose fully the charges against Ms. Saberi and ensure
that she is being treated properly," said Wood.

Saberi, who was born in the United States and grew up in Fargo,
North Dakota, moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance
journalist for news organizations including National Public Radio
and the British Broadcasting Corp. She received Iranian citizenship
because her father was born in Iran.

Iran has released few details about the charges against Saberi.
She was arrested in late January and initially accused of working
without press credentials. But an Iranian judge leveled a far more
serious allegation against her earlier this month, charging that
she passed classified information to U.S. intelligence services.
Saberi's parents and the U.S. have denied that she was a spy.

She was convicted of espionage last week and sentenced after a
one-day trial behind closed doors.

Iran's Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi
revealed a little more detail about the case Tuesday, saying the
initial investigation of Saberi was done by an expert on security
and counterespionage at the Intelligence Ministry before her case
was referred to the court.

"The expert presented a report to the judiciary. The court
investigated the report and found her guilty." IRNA quoted Ejehi
as saying.

Ejehi also said that Saberi worked as an Iranian national and
never asked to operate as an American journalist.

"Saberi didn't use her non-Iranian nationality. She entered
Iran as an Iranian with an Iranian passport," he was quoted by
IRNA as saying.

Iran has stressed that although Saberi is a dual national, the
courts are treating her strictly as an Iranian citizen in an
apparent effort to show they are not prosecuting her because she is
American. In Iran's view, the U.S. has no legal justification to
intervene in Saberi's case because she is being treated as an
Iranian - not an American.

Jamshidi said Saberi's lawyer appealed the verdict, and the
ruling by the appeals court will be final.

Saberi's parents, who live in Fargo but are in Iran to press for
their daughter's release, told The Associated Press Monday that
they had been allowed to visit their daughter in prison. Her father
said his daughter was in good condition and was looking forward to
the appeal.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after
its 1979 Islamic revolution and takeover of the U.S. Embassy in
Tehran. Iran has been mostly lukewarm to the Obama administration's
overtures. But last week, Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready for a new
start.

Saberi's conviction came about two months ahead of key
presidential elections in June that are pitting hard-liners against
reformists, who support better relations with Washington.
Ahmadinejad is seeking re-election, but the hard-liner's popularity
has waned and he has been trying to draw support away from his top
reformist opponent, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.


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