Iran to free jailed American journalist after court suspends 8-year prison term, lawyers say

Iran to free jailed US journalist, lawyers say

TEHRAN, Iran — An American journalist jailed in Iran will be freed Monday and can leave the country immediately, her lawyers said after an appeals court suspended her eight-year prison sentence.

Roxana Saberi, a 32-year-old dual American-Iranian national, was convicted last month of spying for the U.S. and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Her case has caused tension between the United States and Iran at a time with President Barack Obama had said he wanted to engage Washington’s longtime adversary in a dialogue. The U.S. has called the charges against her “baseless” and demanded she be freed.

Iran’s judiciary announced that the appeals court, which heard her case on Sunday, had reduced her jail term to a suspended two-year sentence, said one of her lawyers, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi. He told The Associated Press that Saberi will be “released today.”

Her other lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, said she is “entitled to leave Iran immediately.”

Saberi’s father, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota, said he was waiting for his daughter outside Evin prison, where she has been held since January. He said some paperwork had to be completed before she could be released.

“In the next few days, we will make travel plans to return home,” Reza Saberi told the AP.

Roxana Saberi, who grew up in Fargo, moved to Iran six years ago and had worked as a freelance journalist for several organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. She had gone on a hunger strike in prison to protest her jailing but ended it earlier this month after two weeks for health reasons.

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan said her release would be “wonderful” but also stressed that her jailing was a “miscarriage of justice” that “could not stand the test of public opinion.”

“They (Iranian officials) surely must have felt the weight of international pressure,” the North Dakota Democrat told the AP.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders also welcomed the decision to suspend Saberi’s sentence and looked forward to her imminent release. Her lawyer also said she would not be allowed to work in Iran for five years.

The former 1997 Miss North Dakota was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But an Iranian judge later leveled the far more serious charge of espionage.

Iran has not released many details about her case. Iran’s intelligence minister has said that the initial investigation was done by an expert on security and counterespionage at the Intelligence Ministry before her case was referred to court.

Her Iranian-born father has said his daughter had been working on a book about the culture and people of Iran, and hoped to finish it and return to the United States this year.

The United States broke off ties with Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line students.

Back in her hometown of Fargo, her parents’ neighbors said they were overjoyed about the news. Many had tied yellow ribbons around the trees in the quiet upscale neighborhood to show their support for Saberi.

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

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Associated Press Writer Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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