Tehran, Iran (RPRN) 5/12/09-–Reporters Without Borders hails todayâ€™s release of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi. Her fiancÃ©, filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi, her parents and her lawyers were there to greet her as she emerged from Tehranâ€™s Evin prison at 5:45 p.m. (14:15 GMT).
â€œThis is excellent news,â€ the press freedom organisation said. â€œThe appeal courtâ€™s decision to free her can be used as a legal precedent for other journalists currently detained in Iran. The fact nonetheless remains that, despite her innocence, she is still regarded as guilty by the Iranian authorities.â€
After hearing her appeal in a closed-door session yesterday, a Tehran court decided to reduce her eight-year jail term to a suspended two-year sentence.
One of her lawyers, Saleh Nikbakhat, told Reporters Without Borders that Saberi was originally convicted under article 508 of the criminal code of â€œcollaborating with a state at war with the Islamic Republic of Iranâ€ but during yesterdayâ€™s hearing, the judges agreed to change the charge on the grounds that the United States and Iran â€œwere not at war.â€
She now stands convicted of â€œcollecting and transmitting classified informationâ€ under article 505 of the criminal code. As well as the two-year suspended jail term, the appeal court banned her from working as a journalist in Iran for five years.
â€œThe sentence is still unjust, as is the ban on her working as a journalist in Iran,â€ Reporters Without Borders said.
The daughter of an Iranian father who lives in the United States and has US citizenship, Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked for various international news media including the BBC, Fox News and the US public radio network NPR. Arrested at the end of January, she was initially accused of working illegally as a journalist but was finally tried on a charge of spying for the United States, a charge the Iranian authorities often use to silence journalists.
Several Iranian-American citizens, including journalists, have been arrested in Iran in recent years but Saberi is the first one to be tried and given a jail sentence. Her trial was held on 13 April and the sentence was issued five days later.
Iran was ranked 166th out of 173 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. A wave of arrests on 1 May brought the total number of journalists and bloggers currently held in Iran to 14. Two of them are women.