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IRAN: Official says verdict due in spy trial of journalist Saberi

April 14, 2009 |  6:14 am

Iran-saberi That quickly?

Just like that, the trial of imprisoned Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi appears to be over, according to a government official. 

A spokesman for Iran's judiciary told reporters at a press conference that the North Dakota woman, a graduate of Northwestern University's journalism program, said Saberi's trial on espionage charges began Monday, with a verdict to be declared in the next few weeks. 

"Apparently, the court has heard her final defense, but I will announce further reports in the next session," spokesman Ali-Reza Jamshidi told reporters, according to Iran's Mehr News Agency.

Saberi was detained in late January after living and working in Iran for six years as a journalist, two of them without official accreditation. 

She's been accused of collecting information from Iranian government officials and handing it to U.S. intelligence services.


Her parents, Reza and Akiko, arrived in Tehran on April 6. A few days later, she was formally charged with espionage, a weighty accusation with potentially dire consequences for the 31-year-old former Miss North Dakota. 

"She is charged with spying for foreigners. Her case was heard and an indictment has been issued," Jamshidi said today.

Jamshidi also said the public won't be able to evaluate the evidence for themselves. 

"Relevant documents exist in the case and the claimants can gain access to it in order to prepare their defense," he told reporters, according to Mehr. But there are no laws, he added, that provide journalists the right to gain access to those documents. 

Analysts have described four possible explanations for Saberi's arrest and the serious charges leveled against her:
  1. The soft-spoken Saberi might have been leading a double life as a U.S. intelligence operative. 
  2. Journalists' legitimate work -- interviewing officials and sending reports here and there -- might superficially resemble espionage. Intelligence officers might have built up a body of circumstantial evidence -- visits to embassies, ministries, calls to the U.S. -- that, although factually accurate, was conceptually wrong.
  3. Domestic Iranian politics can be vicious. One faction in the establishment might be using Saberi to try to undermine any possible rapprochement with the U.S. by another faction.
  4. Iran might want a bargaining chip to trade for its officials arrested and held by the U.S. in Iraq as spies over the last few years.

Jamshidi called U.S. demands for her release "ridiculous and against international laws."


-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo:  Roxana Saberi is shown in an undated photo released by the the Miss North Dakota pageant. Credit: The Miss North Dakota Pageant / Associated Press
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