Appeal verdict 'likely'

Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, Saberi's lawyer, said: "I do hope and I am optimistic she will be acquitted.

"I do hope and I am optimistic she will be acquitted"

Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, Saberi's lawyer

"There is a probability that the appeal verdict will be issued today. I guess that the appeals court would substantially reduce the sentence."

A spokesman for the Iranian judiciary told local media that it was not clear a verdict would be issued on Sunday.

Before the hearing began, Saberi's father who was not allowed in to follow the proceedings said he believed the case would be handled "more moderately" this time.

But he also told AFP news agency that the defence would ask for one or two extra days to allow a second lawyer to study the case.

Reza and Akiko Saberi, Saberi's parents, met her in Tehran's Evin prison last week, where she has been held since January.

Her family said she spent two weeks on hunger strike after the sentencing was announced, but began to accept food again earlier this week.

Reza told the Reuters news agency in an interview last week he believed she would starve herself to death if the verdict is upheld.

Spy charges

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has urged the judiciary to ensure Saberi is granted her full legal rights.

Details of the evidence against Saberi have
not been made public [AFP]
Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister, last week said the review of Saberi's case would be based on "justice and human and Islamic kindness".

A citizen of both the United States and Iran, Saberi was arrested in late January for working in the Islamic Republic after her press credentials had expired. She was later charged with espionage.

Espionage can carry the death penalty under Iran's penal code, but those convicted of spying normally face up to 10 years in prison.

The case could further complicate Washington's efforts towards reconciliation with the Islamic Republic after three decades of mutual mistrust.

US-Iran relations

The US says the espionage charges against Saberi, who has reported for the BBC and other media, were baseless and has demanded her release.

Barack Obama, the US president, has expressed concern for her safety and made an appeal on her behalf.

Since taking office earlier this year, Obama has pledged to change Washington's Iran policy. The US broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticised Iran for arresting journalists and suppressing freedom of speech.

The government has arrested several Iranian-Americans in the past few years, citing alleged attempts to overthrow the government. They were never put on trial and were eventually released.