Iran May Ease U.S. Journalist's Prison Sentence

Iran's judiciary spokesman said Tuesday that a court's decision against U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi may be appealed – an implicit indication that her eight-year prison sentence could be reduced.

"We can't influence the judge's verdict [but hope] the verdict will be reconsidered at the appeals court," the official IRNA news agency quoted Ali Reza Jamshidi as saying.

Saberi, 31, was convicted last week of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison just days after a one-day closed-door trial that even her Iranian-born father was not allowed to attend. Saberi was arrested in late January for purchasing alcohol – which is illegal in Iran – but accused earlier this month of spying for the United States.

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Since news of Saberi's conviction broke Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama have expressed how "deeply disappointed" they are, especially as Iran and the United States have been warming to the idea of opening dialogue after decades of diplomatic standoff.

For weeks, U.S. officials have insisted that the charges against Saberi are "baseless" and have repeatedly called for the release of the U.S. born and raised journalist.

On Sunday, those calls appeared to have been heard as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran made an unexpected move by sending a letter to Tehran's chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi.

In the letter, Ahmadinejad, who is notorious for his anti-American rhetoric, urged Mortazavi to make sure Saberi is allowed a full defense during her appeal. A day later, Iran's judiciary chief, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, ordered a full investigation into the case.

According to Iran's foreign ministry, Saberi's press credentials had been revoked in 2006 and she had since been working illegally. Her parents, meanwhile, say that Saberi was writing a book when she was arrested and that she was attending school in Iran.

Saberi had moved to Iran about six years ago and worked as a freelance journalist for news organizations including the National Public Radio (NPR), BBC, ABC and Fox. In a statement, Secretary of State Clinton said Saberi chose to travel to the Islamic Republic of Iran due to her desire to learn more about her cultural heritage.

Though born in the United States, Saberi was able to receive Iranian citizenship because her father was born in Iran. Both of her parents currently reside in the United States, although her father has flown to Iran to be near his daughter during the trial.

Saberi's parents say she was planning to move back to the United States "for good" by May, the month she was scheduled to be the commencement speaker for her alma mater, Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., a school affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

According to college's president, Pamela Jolicoeur, the Concordia community has been praying for the past months for Saberi and her family.

"And we will remain hopeful that a better resolution can be attained soon," she expressed in a statement following Saberi's conviction and sentencing.

Iran judiciary spokesman Jamshidi, meanwhile, said the upcoming ruling by the appeals court will be final, according to IRNA.

Aside from Concordia, Saberi also received degrees from Northwestern University and Cambridge University. She was also chosen as Miss North Dakota in 1997 and among the top ten finalists in Miss America 1998, winning the Scholar Award.

Christian Post reporter Eric Young in San Francisco contributed to this article.

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