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IRAN: Jailed U.S. journalist Saberi on hunger strike

April 25, 2009 |  8:37 am

An American journalist convicted by Iran of spying for the U.S. has gone on a hunger strike to protest her eight-year prison sentence, according to her father.

Reza Saberi said his daughter, Roxana, 31, has been on a hunger strike since Tuesday in Tehran's Evin Prison. She was sentenced one week ago after a one-day trial that found her guilty of using her role as a journalist to pass information to U.S. intelligence services.

"Today is the fifth day," Reza Saberi told the Associated Press. "She will remain on hunger strike until she is freed."

The Obama administration contends Saberi is innocent and has urged that her conviction and sentence be overturned on appeal. The case has complicated U.S. moves toward reconciliation with the Islamic Republic, which is in the midst of an election campaign seen as a key battle between moderate and hard-liners linked to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But in recent days, Ahmadinejad has indicated that he does not want the Saberi ordeal to detract from negotiations with Washington, most notably over Iran’s nuclear programs. Ahmadinejad and the country’s chief judge have stressed that Saberi should receive a swift and fair appeal -- a sign that the harsh sentence was the wrong message to send after Obama’s efforts to improve diplomacy between the two nations.

Some analysts have suggested that the Saberi case was orchestrated by hard-liners who are opposed to closer ties with the U.S. Others have said that Ahmadinejad – a populist conservative – saw the detention of the journalist as a way to test the resolve of the new Obama White House.

Saberi told her father she was detained in January for buying alcohol, which is forbidden in Iran. She was later charged with espionage. Human rights groups have condemned the verdict, and journalist organizations said the case epitomizes Iran’s poor record on civil rights.

A dual U.S. and Iranian citizen, Saberi had reported for the BBC and National Public Radio and was working on a book about Iran’s culture and politics.  

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: Roxana Saberi. Credit: Agence France-Presse

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