Sunday, May 10, 2009

IRAN COURT HEARS REPORTER APPEAL


Undated photo released by the family of imprisoned Iranian-American shows journalist Roxana Saberi in Tehran, Iran
Ms Saberi called off a hunger strike earlier this week

A court in Iran is hearing an appeal from jailed US-Iranian reporter Roxana Saberi, two days earlier than originally expected.

Ms Saberi's lawyer said it was not clear when a ruling would be announced, but that he was optimistic that the 32-year-old would be acquitted.

Ms Saberi was convicted of spying for the US - a charge she denied.

The case sparked international concern and US President Barack Obama has appealed on her behalf.

Unlike her original trial, the legal process this time has been arranged to appear fair and open, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran.


While Sunday's hearing is still not open to the public, Ms Saberi's appeal is being heard before a panel of three judges, and representatives of the Iranian Bar Association are being allowed to attend.

Her lawyer has also been given plenty of notice.

Abdolsamad Khorramshahi said he had submitted 15 pages of documents in support of the appeal for Roxana Saberi .

"I am optimistic she will be acquitted," he said.

Before the hearing began, Ms Saberi's father said he believed the case would be handled "more moderately" this time.

But he also told AFP news agency that the defence would ask for one or two extra days so a second lawyer could study the case.

A spokesman for the Iranian judiciary told local media that it was not clear a verdict would be issued on Sunday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has urged the court to give Ms Saberi her full legal rights.

Details of the evidence against her have still not been made public, but some legal officials have said they hope the appeal court will reconsider Ms Saberi's eight-year sentence, which even for the crime of spying is considered very severe.

The appeal was initially scheduled for Tuesday, and it is not known why the hearing was brought forward.

Ms Saberi has been held in Tehran's Evin prison since January.

Her family said she spent two weeks on hunger strike after the sentencing was announced, but began to accept food again earlier this week.

The journalist originally faced a less serious accusation of buying alcohol, and later of working as a reporter without a valid press card.

Soon after, the spying charge was introduced, and she was tried and sentenced behind closed doors by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

Ms Saberi, who holds dual US and Iranian citizenship, has spent six years in Iran studying and writing a book.

She has worked as a freelance journalist for news organisations including the BBC and the US-based National Public Radio.

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