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Iran charges imprisoned journalist with spying

An Iranian American journalist has been charged with espionage by Iran’s security court, judicial officials and her lawyer said Wednesday.

Roxana Saberi, 31, a freelance journalist living in Tehran, was arrested more than two months ago and is being held in Evin prison in the capital. Sohrab Heydarifard, the judge overseeing her case, told state television that Saberi was being charged with working for U.S. intelligence.

“The charge against her is one of espionage,” he said. “This accused has been coming and going to certain government circles under the cover of reporter and without a permit. And, through the contacts that she has made with certain employees of these government organizations, she has perpetrated actions to compile and gather information and documents and transferred them to American intelligence services.”

Iranian authorities said Saberi had been investigated by the counterespionage section of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, had confessed to the allegations and had been informed of the serious charges against her.

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“The documents are there in her case and she has admitted to all of the charges,” Hassan Haddad, deputy chief prosecutor at Iran’s Revolutionary Court, told the Iranian Students News Agency.

The trial will begin next week, Heydarifard said.

Saberi’s lawyer said he still lacked basic details about the case. “I have not read her file, so I cannot confirm” that she made a confession, said Abdul-Samad Khorramshahi.

“On Saturday, I will go to see when the trial will be held and whether I can read the file or not,” he said.

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U.S. officials said they were closely monitoring Saberi’s situation through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which serves as Washington’s representative in the Islamic Republic.

“We are deeply concerned by the news that we’re hearing,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters. “We wish for her speedy release and return to her family.”

Saberi, the daughter of an Iranian American father and Japanese American mother, worked as a journalist for Western news outlets, including the BBC and National Public Radio. Authorities revoked her credentials in 2006, but she continued to report for broadcast outlets and work on a book.

Saberi’s parents, Reza and Akiko, arrived in Tehran early Sunday and visited their daughter in prison Monday. She had been moved from Evin’s solitary confinement ward to a general population area.

Haddad, the prosecutor, told ISNA that an indictment had been issued against Saberi and that a branch of the Revolutionary Court was investigating the case.

“Since the case is still being investigated and no verdict has been issued yet, we cannot reveal more details on it,” he was quoted as saying. “However, as soon as the verdict is issued, more details will be given on the charges against her.”

Saberi, who was born in New Jersey, holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship and has been living in Tehran for six years. Haddad said Iran does not acknowledge her American nationality.

“She holds Iranian nationality, passport and birth certificate and has entered the country with her Iranian documents,” he said. “We are not aware if she holds any other nationality, and the issue will not influence how Iranian judicial sources handle the charges against her.”

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Saberi was arrested in late January. She told her parents in an early February phone conversation that she was detained after purchasing a bottle of wine, a criminal offense in Iran. Judiciary and Foreign Ministry officials later alleged that her reporting activities were illegal, though media law experts have disputed that interpretation of Iranian law.

Human rights monitors have been alarmed by what they describe as a deterioration of civil liberties in Iran since the ascent of conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.

Iranian officials allege that the U.S. and its allies are using journalists and human rights activists to foment an uprising against the country’s Islamic system, just as the West contributed to the downfall of former communist governments and their successors in the 1990s and 2000s.

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daragahi@latimes.com

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.


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