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Iran's Leader Urges That Reporter Be Treated Fairly

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President Barack Obama says he's 'gravely concerned' about the safety and well-being of a U.S. journalist jailed in Iran. He's confident she is not involved in espionage against Tehran. Video by AP

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 20, 2009

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called yesterday for fair legal treatment of Iranian American reporter Roxana Saberi, who was sentenced over the weekend to eight years in jail on charges of spying for the United States, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

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In a letter to Tehran's prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, Ahmadinejad called for a fair investigation into the cases of Saberi and Iranian Canadian journalist and blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who was arrested in November.

"As per the president's request, please see to it that the legal proceedings are not diverted away from the path of justice," the letter read. "Personally see to it that the defendants are able to assert their legal rights in defending themselves."

Analysts say that Ahmadinejad does not want Saberi's sentence to derail moves toward a dialogue with the Obama administration, which is seeking to break a 30-year diplomatic deadlock between the two nations.

Obama said yesterday that he was "gravely concerned" about Saberi's safety and well-being and was confident she was not involved in espionage. U.S. officials have said that the charges against her are baseless and that Iran will gain U.S. goodwill if it sets her free.

"She was an Iranian American who was interested in the country which her family came from, and it is appropriate for her to be treated as such and to be released," Obama said, speaking at a conference in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, one of Ahmadinejad's close aides, had defended the verdict Saturday, saying Saberi's presence in Iran as an American spy was evidence of "contradictory behavior" by the U.S. government.

Iranian leaders have repeatedly asked for the release of three Iranian diplomats, who are accused of spying but have been held without trial by U.S. forces in Iraq since 2007. The Iranian foreign ministry recently called for the "speedy and unconditional freedom of its consulate officials."

Saberi's lawyer has 20 days to appeal the prison sentence. Legal experts have said that Saberi has a good chance of being acquitted by an appeals court. Other observers say that this case could follow a similar track as one from two years ago: After holding 15 British naval and marine personnel for nearly two weeks in 2007, Ahmadinejad unexpectedly announced their release, sending them home with gifts during a ceremony attended by the international news media.


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