Sunday, May 10, 2009

All's well that ends well, right?

Except the ending of Roxana Saberi's story hasn't yet been written, and there is no assurance whatsoever that it will end well: Iran hears appeal of jailed American journalist.

Iranian judges yesterday heard the appeal of the American-Iranian journalist whose eight-year jail sentence for spying has threatened to derail attempts to improve relations between the two countries.

Roxana Saberi was taken to court from Tehran's Evin prison early on Sunday morning wearing blue chador and looking pale and gaunt, according to witnesses.

But her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, said the case was heard in a "good atmosphere" and that he was hopeful that the sentence would be changed. He also said the verdict would probably be handed down later this week.

"They gave us enough time... to present our defence," he said. "They also gave enough time to my client to defend herself."

The court is expected to deliver its verdict this week.

Miss Saberi was born to an Iranian father and Japanese mother and grew up in the United States with dual nationality. She was at first charged with buying alcohol and with continuing to report from Iran after her press accreditation expired, but at the trial she was accused of espionage.

She was sentenced not long after President Barack Obama had made an online video address to the Iranian people arguing for a new start in relations between the two long-standing diplomatic adversaries.

While President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton wait for Iran to unclench its fist, they might reflect on the fact that said fist is clenched around Roxana Saberi's throat. It's unclear why her safety and freedom are any less of a concern than that of Capt. Phillips: the only difference in the cases is the nature of the pirates who seized the captives.

UPDATE: Roxana Saberi has been released from Evin Prison, her 8-year sentence commuted to 2 years, suspended. She has yet to leave Iran, however, and is likely not safe until she does. Interestingly, President Obama made more note of her release than he did of her captivity.
The release of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi from Tehran's infamous Evin prison has been welcomed by rights groups and Western governments, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who called it a "humanitarian gesture."

Yet many questions remain about how Saberi's initial detention on a relatively minor charge evolved into a conviction for espionage and an eight-year prison sentence.

While analysts might not agree on the reasons behind Iran's decision to free Saberi, there is broad agreement that the case was politically motivated.

The rapid escalation of the charges against the 32-year-old journalist, followed by a fast-track appeals process that resulted in a lesser sentence, hint at the political nature behind the case.

The initial charges leveled against Saberi in late January related to the purchase of a bottle of wine, which is illegal in Iran. Those charges quickly widened into charges of spying for the United States, which in turn resulted in a guilty verdict and an eight-year prison sentence handed down by a revolutionary court.

Finally, amid international outcry over Saberi's imprisonment, an appeals court ruled on the case within 24 hours of hearing it, resulting in a two-year suspended sentence that leaves Saberi free to leave the country.

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