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Roxana Saberi: Lawyer defends jailed US reporter at Iran court

NASSER KARIMI   05/10/09 02:01 PM ET   AP

Roxana Saberi

TEHRAN, Iran — A lawyer for a jailed American journalist in Iran said Sunday he was optimistic that an appeals court will reduce her eight-year prison sentence for allegedly spying for the United States.

Roxana Saberi's lawyer talked to reporters after his 32-year-old client's five-hour closed-door appeals hearing. He said he was allowed to defend Saberi and expects the court will make its ruling in the coming days.

"I am hopeful and optimistic that there will be a remarkable change to her verdict," Abdolsamad Khorramshahi said outside the courthouse. "My colleague and I were allowed to defend our client in a favorable atmosphere. Our client also had enough time to defend herself."

Saberi, who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, was convicted last month after a closed-door hearing that her father said lasted only 15 minutes and her lawyer was not given time to defend her.

The case has caused tensions between the U.S. and Iran at a time when President Barack Obama has said he wants to engage America's longtime adversary. Washington has called the charges against Saberi baseless and demanded she be freed.

Iran had promised a complete review of the case on appeal and insisted Saberi would be allowed to provide a full defense. Officials have suggested that her prison term could be reduced. The court could also overturn her conviction.

Another lawyer for Saberi, Saleh Nikbakht, told The Associated Press that the journalist told the court that her travel in recent years to countries including Israel was not part of any plan against Iran.

"She said she had no particular relations with U.S. officials," Nikbakht added.

He said he asked the court to release Saberi on bail until a final decision.

Iran's judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi said he believed "the ruling by the appeals court will be fair and based on the law," the country's official news agency reported Sunday. But he also stressed that he could not "predict if she will be acquitted or the current verdict will remain in force."

Most espionage cases in Iran are not open to the public. Saberi's father, Reza Saberi, told reporters earlier Sunday that although he accompanied his daughter to the courthouse, he was not allowed to enter the room where the hearing was being held.

Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance reporter for several news outlets including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. She had gone on a hunger strike in prison to protest her jailing but ended it earlier this month after two weeks for health reasons.

The former 1997 Miss North Dakota was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But an Iranian judge later leveled the far more serious charge of espionage.

Iran has released few details about her case. Iran's intelligence minister has said that the initial investigation was done by an expert on security and counterespionage at the Intelligence Ministry before her case was referred to court.

Her Iranian-born father and her mother have traveled from Fargo to Iran to help seek her release. Her father has said his daughter had been working on a book about the culture and people of Iran, and hoped to finish it and return to the United States this year.

The United States broke off ties with Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line students.

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Filed by Nick Graham  |