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Sat 18 Apr 2009 07:07 PM

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Iran jails US-Iranian reporter for 8 years

Iran charges Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi of spying for the United States - newswire.

Iran jails US-Iranian reporter for 8 years
SPY CLAIMS: Saberi, 31, who is a citizen of both the United States and Iran, was arrested in January for working in Iran after her press credentials had expired. (Getty Images)

An Iranian-American journalist accused in Iran of spying for the United States has been jailed for eight years, her lawyer said on Saturday, five days after she was put on trial.

An Iranian judiciary official, quoted by the ISNA news agency, confirmed the sentencing of Roxana Saberi, a US-born freelance reporter who has worked for the BBC and National Public Radio (NPR).

Her jailing could become a source of US-Iranian tension at a time when Washington is trying to reach out to the Islamic Republic following three decades of mutual mistrust.

The judiciary earlier this week said Saberi went on trial on Monday at a Revolutionary Court, which handles security cases.

"She has been sentenced to eight years ... I will appeal," lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi told Reuters.

ISNA quoted the unnamed judiciary official as saying: "Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Roxana Saberi to eight years for espionage. She can appeal the sentence."

Her father, Reza Saberi, told the NPR that his daughter had been coerced into statements that she later retracted.

"She was deceived," he said. "She is quite depressed about this matter and she wants to go on a hunger strike. And if she does, she is so frail it can be very dangerous to her health."

The United States has called the charges against Saberi "baseless" and demanded her immediate release.

NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller said in a statement: "We are deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence."

Saberi, 31, who is a citizen of both the United States and Iran, was arrested in January for working in Iran after her press credentials had expired.

Her parents visited her in Tehran's Evin jail on Apr 6, after arriving from the United States. Evin is a jail where rights groups say political prisoners are usually taken.

According to a website set up to campaign for her release, freeroxana.net, Saberi moved to Iran six years ago.

She grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and holds Masters Degrees in Journalism and International Relations. She was chosen Miss North Dakota in 1997, the website says.

Washington cut ties with Iran shortly after the Islamic revolution in 1979 but US President Barack Obama has offered a new beginning of diplomatic engagement on a range of issues if Tehran "unclenches its fist."

Iran says it wants to see a real switch in Washington's policies away from those of former President George W. Bush, who led a drive to isolate the country because of nuclear work the West suspects has military aims, a charge Iran denies.

One Iranian analyst said Saberi's sentencing should not be seen as a sign of Iran rebuffing Washington's overture, but that she had been in the "wrong place at the wrong time".

The sentence was likely to be commuted or reduced in a higher court, said the analyst, who declined to be named.

Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders this week said Iran used the espionage charge to "arrest journalists and tighten the muzzle on free expression." Iran denies such accusations and says it respects freedom of speech based on Islamic rules. (Reuters)

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