U.S. Journalist Held in Iran Faces Charges of Spying

Roxana Saberi has been in custody for more than two months.
Roxana Saberi has been in custody for more than two months. (AP)
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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 9, 2009

TEHRAN, April 8 -- Roxana Saberi, an American freelance journalist who has been in custody in Iran since January, has been charged with spying, the judge in the case told Iranian state television Wednesday.

"This accused has been coming and going to certain government circles under the cover of reporter and without a permit," Sohrab Heydarifard said. "She has perpetrated actions to compile and gather information and documents and transferred them to American intelligence services."

The judge said Saberi was arrested on the basis of tips from Iran's counterintelligence agency.

Also Wednesday, Tehran's deputy chief prosecutor, Hassan Haddad, said that Saberi had accepted all the charges against her and that the case was in court, the Iranian Students News Agency reported. Saberi's attorney, Abdolsamad Khorramshai, said he had not seen the charges or been present at any court session.

"There are different punishments for different levels of spying," Khorramshai said, adding that he expected to read the charges Saturday.

Saberi's parents were allowed to meet with their daughter Monday and said she was in relatively good health and was allowed to read and watch television. She told them she was sharing a cell with three others in Tehran's Evin prison.

Saberi, who was born in the United States but also holds an Iranian passport, was detained initially for reportedly buying alcohol, which is prohibited in Iran. Before Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance revoked her press card in 2006, without specifying the reason, she had worked on a freelance basis for the BBC, U.S.-based National Public Radio and other news organizations.

In March, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said Saberi had been working in the country illegally since the revocation of her press card.

Heydarifard said it was not clear whether Saberi, who was chosen as Miss North Dakota in 1997, is a U.S. citizen. "In the course of the investigations, it became clear that she only has Iranian nationality, and, so far, her American citizenship is not definite," he said.

"Saberi has an Iranian citizenship, passport and an Iranian national identity card," Haddad said. "She has entered Iran as an Iranian citizen, and if she has another citizenship, we are unaware of it, and it has no effect on how we will proceed with her case."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week that the United States had given a letter to Iranian officials during a meeting in the Netherlands seeking Iran's help in resolving Saberi's case.

"We are deeply concerned by the news that we're hearing" about Saberi, Clinton said Wednesday in Washington. "I will, as will the rest of the [State] Department, continue to follow this very closely."

Clinton has also pressed for resolution of the cases of two other Americans missing or detained in Iran: Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared during a 2007 business trip, and Esha Momeni, who was arrested in October for supporting a campaign for women's rights. Momeni is free but is not allowed to leave. Iran denies Levinson is in the country.

Officials here point out that the United States does not allow Iranian journalists to work in the country on a permanent basis. The only official Iranian reporter in the United States is a correspondent for state broadcaster IRIB who is accredited by the United Nations in New York and is not allowed to travel more than 25 miles from that city.

Staff writers Mary Beth Sheridan and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

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