Court in Iran to Review Conviction of U.S. Journalist Roxana Saberi

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 6, 2009

TEHRAN, May 5 -- An Iranian appeals court will review the conviction of imprisoned Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi next week, a judiciary spokesman said Tuesday.

The announcement of the review came after Saberi's family agreed not to employ a group of prominent lawyers headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.

"Judicial authorities have advised us that it is better to use other lawyers," said the journalist's father, Reza Saberi.

Roxana Saberi, 32, a freelance reporter who had worked in Iran for National Public Radio, the BBC and other news organizations, was convicted April 18 of spying for the United States. She was sentenced to eight years in prison after a one-day trial behind closed doors.

The United States has called the charges baseless, and President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have called for Saberi's release. Several Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have called for her to receive a fair trial.

On Tuesday, Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters that Saberi's case "has been referred to an appeals court, where it is being studied." He added that a hearing has been scheduled for next week, but that it will be closed to the news media and the general public.

"Experts from the Bar Association, the Intelligence Ministry and the prosecutor's office have been invited to attend the court session," Jamshidi said.

Although Jamshidi did not announce a specific date, Reza Saberi said he thinks the hearing will be May 12. "We hope for a lenient verdict," he said.

According to Saberi's family, she was taken to a hospital Monday after a 15-day hunger strike. "She probably had fainted," her father said.

But Iranian authorities have denied she was on a hunger strike, and her attorney, Abdolsamad Khorramshai, said he could not confirm that she was refusing food. "There is no need for hunger strikes. It will have no effect on her case," he said in an interview.

The group of lawyers led by Ebadi tried five times to contact Saberi in prison so she could sign papers allowing them to defend her during the appeal. But they never received permission from prison authorities to meet with her.

"It's clear they are afraid that we will make details of the charges public," said one of the lawyers, Abdolfattah Soltani. "There must be serious irregularities in her file."

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