U.S. Journalist Convicted of Spying in Iran

( [email protected] ) Apr 19, 2009 11:16 AM EDT
An American journalist detained in Iran has been convicted of spying and sentenced to eight years in prison, her lawyer reported Saturday.
In this undated photo released by the The Miss North Dakota Pageant, Roxana Saberi is shown, in North Dakota. Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen, was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But an Iranian judge leveled a far more serious allegation on Wednesday, charging her with spying for the United States. (Photo: The Miss North Dakota Pageant)

An American journalist detained in Iran has been convicted of spying and sentenced to eight years in prison, her lawyer reported Saturday.

Both U.S. president Barack Obama and U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton said they were “deeply disappointed” by the verdict against 31-year-old Roxana Saberi of Fargo, N.D.

“Our thoughts are with her parents and family during this difficult time,” expressed Clinton in a statement. “We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government.”

Saberi, who holds dual U.S.-Iran citizenship, had been tried earlier this past week after having spent months in jail since her arrest late January.

Though initially detained for purchasing alcohol – which is illegal in Iran – Saberi was accused by an Iranian judge earlier this month of spying for the United States.

"This accused has been coming and going to certain government circles under the cover of reporter and without a permit," Judge Sohrab Heydarifard told state television on April 8. "She has perpetrated actions to compile and gather information and documents and transferred them to American intelligence services."

U.S. officials, however, say the charges are “baseless” and have repeatedly called for her release.

“Ms. Saberi was born and raised in the United States, yet chose to travel to the Islamic Republic of Iran due to her desire to learn more about her cultural heritage,” reiterated Clinton on Saturday.

And though Saberi’s press credentials had been revoked in 2006, her parents say Saberi was writing a book when she was arrested and that she had hoped to finish it and return to the United States this year.

Furthermore, her father, Reza Saberi, told National Public Radio – one of several news organizations she worked as a freelance reporter for during her six years in Iran – that Saberi was tricked into giving incriminating statements by officials who told her they would free her if she did.

“She was deceived,” he said. “They told her that, if she said like this, they would free her and then they didn't free her. Later she found out that it was a trick, yes.”

According to Clinton, the United States is working closely with the Swiss Protecting Presence to obtain details about the court’s decision, and to ensure Saberi’s well being.

Born in the United States and raised by her Iranian father and Japanese mother in Fargo, N.D., Saberi was Miss North Dakota in 1997 and a graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., one of 28 higher institutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

The presiding bishop of the Christian denomination, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, has been among those appealing for her release.