Iran Frees Roxana Saberi

Appeals court reduces sentence, eliminating a major obstacle to U.S.-Iranian dialogue.

Last Updated: May 11, 2009 @ 10:33 AM

Roxana Saberi, the American journalist jailed for four months in Iran for suspected espionage, was freed on Monday.

Saberi, who had been sentenced to eight years, was reunited with her parents and is expected to return to the U.S. in the next few days. "She is in good condition, and we are very happy that they gave us such a break for her," her father told journalists outside Evin Prison, where she had been held.

The release came after an appeals court reduced her sentence to a two-year suspended term, finding that the original charge of  "cooperating with a hostile state" was struck down, because the U.S. and Iran could not be defined as hostile toward one another.

The new verdict came after a five-hour hearing Sunday, during which Saberi was allowed to defend herself for the first time. That followed a plea by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that she be given "all freedoms and legal rights" to defend herself.

Her original trial, on April 13, was held in secret, lasted an hour, and no lawyers were allowed to be present. In Sunday’s hearing she had two lawyers speak on her behalf.

Importantly, the decision removes a major obstacle to the opening up of dialogue between the U.S. and Iran. Analysts, in fact, have suggested that her arrest and confinement was being used by hard-liners in the Iranian government to impede overtures from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Saberi has lived in Iran for six years and had been working on a book about Iran. She was initially arrested for buying a bottle of wine, which is illegal; that charge was upped when it was discovered her press card had been revoked two years earlier.

A former American beauty queen, she has worked for NPR, the BBC and Fox. She will be allowed to leave Iran, and has been banned from working as a journalist in Iran for five years.