Monday, May 11, 2009
U.S. reporter freed by Iran, reunites with family
Saberi allowed to leave country after prison term for spying is suspended
msnbc.com news services
TEHRAN, Iran - An American journalist jailed for five months in Iran was freed Monday and reunited with her parents after an appeals court suspended her eight-year prison sentence on charges of spying for the United States.
Roxana Saberi, a 32-year-old dual Iranian-American citizen, met her parents outside Evin prison Monday evening after the court cut her jail term to a two-year suspended sentence, her lawyers said. While they awaited her release, her mother, in a headscarf, smiled while her father looked overcome with emotion.
"She was reunited with her father and mother. They left for their house," her lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told The Associated Press. He said Saberi was free to leave Iran immediately.
Her Iranian-born father, Reza Saberi, said he planned to return home with his daughter in the next few days. The family lives in Fargo, North Dakota, and her parents have been in Iran for several weeks seeking their daughter's freedom.
Snag in relations
Iran's about-face clears a major snag in the Obama administration's efforts to engage Iran in a dialogue after decades of shunning the country. Washington had called the charges against Saberi baseless and repeatedly demanded her release.
Saberi, who grew up in Fargo and is a former Miss North Dakota, moved to Iran six years ago and had worked as a freelance journalist for several organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.
She was arrested in late January for working in the Islamic Republic after her press credentials had expired. She was later charged with espionage, a charge that can carry the death sentence.
Saberi had gone on a hunger strike in prison recently to protest her jailing but ended it after two weeks for health reasons.
She was jailed in Evin prison, where many political prisoners are held, since January.
On Sunday, a court heard an appeal of Saberi's conviction and sentence and her lawyers emerged saying they were able to defend her and were optimistic her sentence would be reduced.
The United States, several European countries and human rights groups had been advocating for Saberi's release.
"They (Iranian officials) surely must have felt the weight of international pressure," U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota told The AP after hearing she would be released.
Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders last month said Saberi's conviction was a warning to foreign journalists working in Iran ahead of its presidential election in June.
It said seven journalists were imprisoned in Iran, which it said was ranked 166th out of 173 countries in its latest press freedom index.
Iran denies Western allegations it is seeking to stifle dissenting voices. The government says it welcomes constructive criticism and upholds the principle of free speech.
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