IRAN: Ahmadinejad and the jailed journalist

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Is it an odd, perhaps even surreal, request?

A day after an American-Iranian journalist was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the U.S. -- in a trial human-rights groups and media organizations have condemned as a sham – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged prosecutors to ensure fairness and justice.

That’s the opposite of what Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old freelance journalist, received during her nearly three-month imprisonment and one-day trial, according to her family and international rights groups. Her lawyer barely had time to prepare for the case; proceedings were held behind closed doors. Iranian authorities said Saberi confessed; her father claims she was coerced and tricked.

The verdict sent a chill through the Obama administration’s overtures to improve relations with Tehran. What’s next in Saberi’s case or in the decades-old U.S.-Iranian drama? Nobody knows. But Ahmadinejad’s letter to prosecutors today once again prompted a bit of head-scratching about what Iran is contemplating.

The letter tells prosecutors that during Saberi’s appeal: “Please, personally observe the process to ensure that the defendants are allowed all legal rights and freedom in defending themselves and that their rights are not violated even by one iota.”


-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo