In what is a crushing blow to the freedom of correspondents and the media, a court in Iran has sentenced Roxana Saberi an Iranian-American journalist to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the US, say reports citing the information to Saberi’s lawyer.
“I’ll definitely appeal the verdict,” Saberi’s counsel Abdolsamad Khoramshahi was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Meanwhile the US has rubbished charges against Saberi and called for her immediate release.
Saberi was initially arrested on charges of attempting to procure alcohol, a forbidden act according to local laws.
The ISNA news agency, quoting an unidentified source, confirms Saberi’s sentencing in espionage charges, Iranian law has a provision for capital punishment for those caught spying, says French news agency AFP.
“Roxana said in court that her earlier confessions were not true and she told me she had been tricked into believing that she would be released if she cooperated,” AFP quoted Roxana’s father Reza Saberi as saying.
“Her denial is documented in her case but apparently they did not pay attention to it,” he added, without divulging when he had last spoken to his daughter.
The US State department has said that charges against Saberi were baseless and ill-founded.
“This charge is baseless and it’s without foundation,” Robert Wood, a US State Department spokesman, was quoted as saying last week.
Tehran officials, however, say Washington’s intervention on the matter was “ridiculous and against international laws.”
“It is ridiculous for a person or a government to make comments about a case without examining the evidence first and to make this kind of judgment to say if a person is guilty or not,” ISNA quoted Alireza Jamshidi as saying on Tuesday.
Saberi, 31, was arrested in late January on charges of buying alcohol. The foreign ministry said later that she was accused of working as a reporter without press credentials, but the prosecutor’s office said this month that she was put on trial behind closed doors for spying.
She is being currently being held in the Evin prison in Tehran.
Saberi, grew up in North Dakota, before moving to Iran some six years ago where she worked for National Public Radio (NPR) and the BBC, Authorities revoked her press card in 2006.
In a statement released Saturday, Vivian Schiller, president and CEO of NPR, said “We are deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence.”
Saberi was “an established and respected professional journalist,” added Schiller.