x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Journalist freed from Iran prison

Roxana Saberi, the US-born journalist jailed in Iran on charges of spying, walks free from a Tehran prison.

Reza Saberi and his wife Akiko, the parents of the reporter Roxana Saberi, wait outside Tehran's Evin prison for her release.
Reza Saberi and his wife Akiko, the parents of the reporter Roxana Saberi, wait outside Tehran's Evin prison for her release.

The US-born journalist jailed in Iran last month on charges of spying has walked free after her prison term was reduced to a two-year suspended sentence. Roxana Saberi, who was handed an eight-year prison term, left Tehran's notorious Evin prison after her sentence was reduced on appeal. It ends a five-month ordeal for Ms Saberi, who was initially detained in January and sentenced last month on charges of spying for the United States. "The verdict of the previous court has been quashed," her lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said. "Her punishment has been changed to a suspended two-year sentence." The ruling was greeted with joy and relief by Ms Saberi's father, who has been in the country since March to push for her release and was waiting outside the prison to see his daughter. Iran's judiciary confirmed the news, saying that the sentence would be suspended for five years, while a judicial source told the AFP news agency that the 32-year-old journalist would be free to leave the country. "She's free to do what she wants as any other citizen who has a passport and can come and go as they want," the source said. Her release comes just a day after a Tehran court heard a closed-door appeal by Ms Saberi, who was initially detained in January reportedly for buying alcohol, an illegal act in the Islamic republic. The case triggered deep concern in Washington, which dismissed the spying charges as baseless, and among human rights groups. Ms Saberi had been accused of "co-operating with a hostile state," a charge which carries a prison term of one to 10 years. But Mr Nikbakht said the appeal court had quashed the initial verdict issued on April 13 on the grounds that the United States and Iran could not be defined as hostile towards each other. "She was sentenced to two years suspended for gathering secret documents," he said. Her father, who had arrived in Iran from the United States in March to seek her release, voiced delight at her release. "We are very happy," Reza Saberi said. "We are going to Evin prison to take her home." He told one television channel that he saw his daughter on Sunday and that "she is feeling well," but had lost weight. Ms Saberi launched a hunger strike on April 21 in protest at the sentence, taking in only water or sugared water, but she ended it after about two weeks after being briefly hospitalised in the prison clinic. The sentence against Ms Saberi was the harshest ever meted out to a dual national on security charges in Iran and came just weeks after the US president Barack Obama proposed dialogue with Tehran after three decades of severed ties. Mr Obama himself said he was "especially concerned" about Ms Saberi but Iran insisted the case was an internal matter and urged foreign states, especially her native United States, not to "interfere". However, shortly after the eight-year sentence was announced, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi called for a fair appeal. Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality, has said Ms Saberi had continued working "illegally" after her press card was revoked in 2006. Ms Saberi, who is also of Japanese origin, has reported for US National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News, and has lived in Iran for the past six years. * AFP