Iran tries US journalist on espionage charges

A spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary announced April 14 that an imprisoned US journalist has been tried on espionage charges. The Revolutionary Court of Iran conducted the trial of Roxana Saberi, accused of passing classified information to US intelligence agencies, in proceedings closed to the public.

Saberi was arrested last month after buying a bottle of wine, as alcohol consumption is banned in Iran. Initially, it appeared she would face charges for working as a freelance journalist for NPR and the BBC without Iranian press credentials, but once she was in custody the Iranian government charged her with espionage. US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have called for Saberi to be released. The verdict from Saberi’s trial is expected within several weeks. If convicted, Saberi could face execution.

Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Iran ranked sixth in the world for total number of imprisoned journalists. In the past two years, Iran has arrested several journalists and scholars on espionage charges. In 2007, Iran accused four Iranian-Americans of belonging to a US-organized spy network. Iran formally charged Iranian-American scholar Dr. Haleh Esfandiari for allegedly plotting “against the sovereignty of the country.” Iran also charged Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh and Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima with allegedly engaging in an espionage conspiracy. An Iranian judge said that Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh admitted to carrying out some “activities”, although it was unclear if their statements were tantamount to an admission of spying. (Jurist, April 14)

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