Iran Frees U.S. Journalist After Successful Appeal

( [email protected] ) May 11, 2009 02:52 PM EDT
American journalist Roxana Saberi was freed Monday from prison in Iran after an appeals court reduced her eight-year jail sentence to a two-year suspended sentence.
Reza Saberi and his wife Akiko, parents of US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, wait with an unidentified relative outside Evin prison before their daughter is released in Tehran, Iran on Monday May 11, 2009. A lawyer for the journalist jailed in Iran says she will be freed from prison after an appeals court suspended her eight-year jail sentence. Roxana, a 32-year-old dual Iranian-American citizen, was convicted last month of spying for the U.S. and sentenced to eight years in prison. An appeals court reduced her jail term on Monday to a two-year suspended sentence. (Photo: AP / Hasan Sarbakhshian)

American journalist Roxana Saberi was freed Monday from prison in Iran after an appeals court reduced her eight-year jail sentence to a two-year suspended sentence.

The 32-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen will be greeted by her Iranian-born father, Reza Saberi, who has been waiting for her outside Evin prison. Reza Saberi says they plan to return to the United States as soon as possible.

“We are very happy with the news,” he told CNN. “We were hoping for it.”

Last month, an Iranian court convicted the American journalist of espionage for the U.S. and sentenced her to eight years in prison. She was originally arrested in late January for purchasing a bottle of wine (alcohol is illegal in Iran) and working as a journalist without proper press credentials.

Saberi has lived in Iran since 2003 and worked as freelance journalist for news organizations including the National Public Radio (NPR), BBC, ABC and Fox. Her press credentials were revoked in 2006.

Her father said she was writing a book about the people and culture of Iran, and had planned to finish it before returning to the United States this year. He describes the situation as “very depressing” for his daughter.

“It will take some time before she can overcome it,” he said. But he added, "It’s not the (Iranian) people – they are very friendly. We don’t understand why it happened."

While in prison, Saberi missed celebrating her 32nd birthday with family and friends and could not deliver the scheduled commencement address at her alma mater, Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. Concordia is a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

She also went on a two-week hunger strike that ended when her parents visited her in prison and pleaded with her to stop. She was later hospitalized and fed intravenously.

Her case has further strained the already tense Iran-U.S. relation just as President Obama signaled willingness to engage with Tehran in dialogue. The United States has cut off ties with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. embassy by hard-line Islamist students in support of the revolution.

President Obama, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. congressmen have publicly denounced the accusation that Saberi is a U.S. spy.

And Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, faced with growing international pressure, had sent a letter to Tehran’s chief prosecutor urging him to make sure Saberi is allowed a full defense during her appeal.

But back in her hometown of Fargo, N.D., her parents’ neighbors are simply grateful that the American journalist has finally been released.

“We’ve been dancing around here since the first word came out,” said Jean Melicher, a neighbor of Saberi’s parents, according to The Associated Press. “We’re delighted. She’s going to come home.”