Freed American Journalist Had Copied Iranian Report on U.S.-Led War in Iraq

Roxana Saberi, freed Monday by Iran, thanked all those who came to her aid.
Roxana Saberi, freed Monday by Iran, thanked all those who came to her aid. (By Hasan Sarbakhshian -- Associated Press)
By Ali Akbar Darein
Associated Press
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

TEHRAN, May 12 -- A joyful Roxana Saberi on Tuesday thanked those who helped win her release after more than three months in a Tehran prison. Her attorney revealed that the American-born journalist had been convicted of spying for the United States in part because she had a copy of a confidential Iranian report on the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Saberi, who holds American and Iranian citizenship, copied the report "out of curiosity" while working as a freelance translator for a powerful body connected to Iran's ruling clerics, said the attorney, Saleh Nikbakht.

The document became a key part of the prosecution's case against her during a secret, closed-door trial in mid-April, Nikbakht said. Prosecutors also cited a 2006 trip that Saberi made to Israel, a country Iran bars its citizens from visiting, he said.

Speaking to reporters in Tehran for the first time since her release on Monday, a smiling Saberi said she had no specific plans but wanted to spend time with her family.

"I'm of course very happy to be free and to be with my parents again, and I want to thank all the people all over the world -- which I'm just finding out about, really -- who, whether they knew me or not, helped me and my family during this period," she said outside her home in north Tehran.

Her father said Saberi was catching up online on news stories about her detention as the family prepared to return with her to the United States.

Saberi's original trial was a swift, single session that her father said lasted only 15 minutes. She was not given a chance to speak and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

But she spoke in an appeals court Sunday, explaining her side to the judges, Nikbakht said. Saberi acknowledged copying the document two years ago but denied passing it on to the Americans. She apologized, saying it had been a mistake to take the report, Nikbakht said. He gave no details on what was in the document.

At the time, Saberi was doing occasional translations for the Web site of the Expediency Council, which is made up of clerics who mediate among the legislature, the presidency and Iran's clerical leadership concerning constitutional disputes, the lawyer said.

The court accepted her explanation and reduced her sentence to a suspended two-year term, prompting her release Monday. Another of Saberi's attorneys, Abdolsamad Khorramshai, said a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the court urging it to give Saberi's case a complete review helped bring the sentence reduction.

Saberi's Iranian-born father, Reza Saberi, told reporters Tuesday that his daughter "was not tortured at all" while in custody but had made incriminating statements about herself under pressure.

He said that she retracted her statements later and that the appeals court accepted that.

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