Iran releases jailed US journalist

US welcomes "humanitarian gesture" as reporter convicted of spying walks free.

    Saberi's parents have said their daughter never spied for the United States [AFP]

    "He was relieved to see that Roxana Saberi has been released," Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said.

    "We know this has been a trying time for her family and friends and he looks forward to welcoming her home to the United States.

    "We want to continue to stress that she was wrongly accused, but we welcome this humanitarian gesture."

    Parents 'happy'

    Saberi's father, Reza, told Al Jazeera that he is planning to take Roxana out of the country as soon as possible.

    Roxana's father speaks

    "We couldn't believe it [when Roxana was convicted]. Roxana is a balanced reporter. She never took sides.

    "She never intended to pass any news to any other country that was against the interest of Iran. She hasn’t done anything wrong.

    "Whatever happened in the courts we don’t know. We are happy they have decided to release her.

    "There will be some friends around to celebrate but tonight of course we just want her to rest, when we go home we will celebrate."

    "She was very hopeful and we were very hopeful [that she would win the appeal], so we are happy with the news," he said.

    "We asked the authorities to be lenient on her and all the support and people's kindness helped a lot."

    Saberi launched a hunger strike on April 21 in protest at the sentence, taking in only water or sugared water, but she ended it after about two weeks when she was briefly hospitalised.

    The ruling came after a court in the capital, Tehran, heard Saberi's appeal behind closed doors.

    "The verdict of the previous court has been quashed," Saleh Nikbakht, her defence lawyer, said on Monday.

    "Her punishment has been changed to a suspended two-year sentence."

    Saberi was initially detained in January reportedly for buying alcohol, but was later charged with espionage. 

    "The article of law that was referred to in her conviction was article 501 that says any co-operation with hostile governments and hostile countries deserved one to 10 years in prison," Al Jazeera's Alireza Ronaghi, reporting fom Tehran, said.

    "That article of law has been disputed by lawyers who say Iran is not at war with anyone at the moment and the phrase of 'hostile government' should be interpreted more seriously."

    Journalism ban 

    Saberi has reported for US National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News, and has lived in Iran for the past six years.

    Tehran says that she has been working in the country illegally after her press card was revoked in 2006.

    Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, another defence lawyer, said Saberi would be banned from doing any journalism in Iran for five years.

    The original sentence was handed down just weeks after Obama said that his administration would work towards better relations with Tehran after three decades with no official ties.

    Afshin Molavi, an Iran expert at the New American Foundation, told Al Jazeera that the arrest and subsequent release had taken place in "a highly charged political environment".

    "At this particular moment, with elections coming up and a very open American political overture to Iran, I think this had become far too much of a distraction," he said.

    Washington has repeatedly denied that Saberi was involved in spying for the US.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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