Iran Holds Closed Trial For American Journalist

In this undated photo released by the The Miss North Dakota Pageant, Roxana Saberi is shown, in North Dakota. Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen, was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But an Iranian judge leveled a far more serious allegation on Wednesday, charging her with spying for the United States. (AP Photo/The Miss North Dakota Pageant)
In this undated photo released by the The Miss North Dakota Pageant, Roxana Saberi is shown, in North Dakota. Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen, was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But an Iranian judge leveled a far more serious allegation on Wednesday, charging her with spying for the United States. (AP Photo/The Miss North Dakota Pageant) (AP)

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Iranian American journalist accused by Iran of spying for the United States has been tried behind closed doors, Iran's judiciary said yesterday, and a verdict is expected in one to two weeks.

Roxana Saberi "has been charged with spying for foreigners. The first session of the court was held yesterday, and her last defense was heard," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told journalists, the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency reported.

"Her spying was for the United States, and I think the verdict will be passed within a couple of weeks," Jamshidi added, saying that it was up to the judge to decide whether future hearings would be open to the public.

The Obama administration says the charges against Saberi, 31, are baseless and has demanded her immediate release.

Saberi holds U.S. and Iranian citizenship, but Iranian law does not recognize her U.S. nationality. Jamshidi dismissed the U.S. call to free Saberi, saying that "giving an opinion on a case, by an individual or a government, without being informed about the facts in it, is utterly ridiculous."

Before Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance revoked Saberi's press credentials in 2006, without specifying the reason, she had worked in the country on a freelance basis for the BBC, U.S.-based National Public Radio and other news organizations.

She remained in Iran and, according to her parents, is writing a book.

Saberi was arrested in late January for allegedly buying alcohol, which is illegal in Iran. Last week, however, an Iranian judge leveled a far more serious allegation against her: spying for the United States.

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

Spying is a serious charge in Iran, where political leaders regularly accuse the United States and Britain of espionage and support for organizations known to have committed terrorist acts against Iranian civilians. The heaviest punishment for espionage is death. In a recent high-profile case, a well-connected former Iranian official working as a businessman selling telecommunications equipment was convicted of spying on the military for Israel and hanged in 2008.

Saberi's parents, Reza and Akiko Saberi, met with their daughter in prison yesterday, news agencies reported. They had traveled to Tehran from their home in Fargo, N.D., to follow the case.

"We met Roxana today for a few minutes, and she is doing well," Reza Saberi told Agence France-Presse. "We are waiting for the judge to make a decision. [The verdict] should come out in a week. There is always hope. But we don't know what will happen."


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