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Jailed Journalist Leaves Iranian Prison

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Jailed Journalist Leaves Iranian Prison


Jailed Journalist Leaves Iranian Prison

Jailed Journalist Leaves Iranian Prison

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Lawyers for Roxana Saberi say the American journalist has been released from a Tehran prison. A court on Sunday suspended her eight-year prison setence.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. After four months in an Iranian prison, American journalist Roxana Saberi has been freed. She was convicted last month of spying and given a sentence of eight years. Today, an appeals court in Iran reduced that sentence and commuted it. This story is still developing. We do know that Roxana Saberi has been released from Evin prison, where she was being held.

NPR's Tom Gjelten is following this story, and joins us now. And Tom, what's the latest?

TOM GJELTEN: Well, Renee, we spoke to one of Roxana's attorneys a short time ago, and he told us that Roxana, at that moment, was on her way to her family's apartment in Tehran with her father. Now, we understand from other people in Tehran that traffic in Tehran is pretty tough, as you can imagine, and it could take as much as an hour for her to make that drive from the prison to her family's apartment. We don't know if she has arrived at the apartment yet. The attorney had not himself seen Roxana. We are waiting for further confirmation that she has, in fact, arrived at her apartment.

MONTAGNE: And Roxana's father, Reza Saberi, has been speaking to reporters there in Tehran today. What has he been saying?

GJELTEN: That's right, Renee. I think this was before he saw Roxana. Among the reporters he spoke to was someone from the BBC. And here's what he said in response to a question about when they would be leaving Iran.

Mr. REZA SABERI: Not today, but pretty soon. We don't know yet. We have to make some arrangements yet.

GJELTEN: So apparently, they're planning to leave Iran soon, but not today. He was also asked about Roxana's physical condition, and here's what he said about that.

Mr. SABERI: She's in good condition, and we are very happy that they gave us such a (unintelligible).

GJELTEN: And that's Roxana's father, speaking to reporters today in Tehran, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now her release came as something of a surprise. How did that come about?

GJELTEN: Well, we don't know that, Renee. We do know that she was scheduled for an appeal. She was a - she had a hearing yesterday before an appeals court in Tehran. And actually, the date of that hearing was moved up by a couple of days, which I think suggested to some people that, in fact, the authorities in Iran were rethinking what to do. There was, of course, tremendous pressure on the Iranian government to release Roxana Saberi. And we don't know, but there was clearly here a decision by the authorities that Roxana Saberi should be released, and it happened very quickly, didn't it?

MONTAGNE: And speaking with NPR's Tom Gjelten about the release of Roxana Saberi - just why don't you, for just a moment, give us a little recap of how it even came to this?

GJELTEN: Well, Renee, Roxana Saberi, of course, is a journalist. She's filed for NPR, among other news organizations. She was in Tehran working on a book, we understand, from her father. She is an Iranian-American with duel nationality. In January, she was arrested, allegedly for buying alcohol. Then there was additional charges added later on. She was charged with reporting without press credentials. And then finally, last month, she was convicted of espionage, of spying for the United States. The United States said those charges were baseless, but they did result in a very serious sentence of eight years.

MONTAGNE: Now, one thing: This case developed as the Obama administration was reaching out to Iran, then this case sort of came into the picture. President Obama himself called for her release. Is it too early to assess the impact on U.S. relations with Iran, both that it happened and that now she's been released?

GJELTEN: Well, it certainly is a good sign. I think what we can say is that her continued detention would certainly have been a barrier to better relations between the United States and Iran. We can't say that this alone is going to make much of a difference in terms of that relationship, but it certainly can't hurt, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GJELTEN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten on news today that journalist Roxana Saberi has been freed from prison. We'll continue to bring you news as we learn more, and you can keep up with developments at our Web site:

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Iran Releases Jailed U.S. Journalist Saberi

In this photo taken before her arrest, Roxana Saberi poses with schoolchildren in Iran. Courtesy of Reza Saberi hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Reza Saberi

In this photo taken before her arrest, Roxana Saberi poses with schoolchildren in Iran.

Courtesy of Reza Saberi

In Focus

North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan Speaks With Renee Montagne On Morning Edition

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Tom Gjelten Discusses Saberi's Release On Morning Edition

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Renee Montagne Talks With New York Times Reporter Nazila Fathi On Morning Edition

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Key Dates In Saberi Case

Jan. 31 — Roxana Saberi is arrested in Iran.


April 8 — Saberi, who is being held at Tehran's Evin prison, is charged with espionage.


April 13 — The American journalist appears for a one-day trial held behind closed doors.


April 18 — Saberi is sentenced to eight years in prison by Iran's Revolutionary Court.


April 25 — Reza Saberi announces that his daughter has already begun a hunger strike, which lasts for two weeks. Roxana Saberi's attorney appeals the conviction.


May 11 — Saberi is released from Evin prison after an appeals court cuts her jail term to a two-year suspended sentence.

American freelance journalist Roxana Saberi was released from an Iranian prison Monday and reunited with her parents after her sentence for espionage was reduced on appeal, ending a four-month ordeal for the reporter that strained relations between Tehran and Washington.

Iranian authorities released Saberi to the custody of her father nearly a month after she was convicted of spying for the United States.

"I'm very happy that she is free. Roxana is in good condition," Saberi's father, Reza Saberi, said after her release.

Banned From Reporting

Saberi's eight-year sentence, issued by an Iranian court after a secretive one-day trial on April 13, was reduced to a suspended two-year term, according to her attorney, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi. As a condition of her release from Tehran's Evin prison, she will be banned from reporting from Iran for five years.

President Obama welcomed Iran's "humanitarian gesture" in releasing Saberi, who holds dual American-Iranian citizenship.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had taken a personal interest in Saberi's case, said she was pleased to hear she was free. "Obviously, we continue to take issue with the charges against her and the verdicts rendered, but we are very heartened that she has been released and wish her and her family all of the very best," Clinton said.

Saberi "is currently with her family and will be leaving Tehran to return to the United States in the coming days," she said.

On Sunday, Saberi's attorney said a judge had agreed to free the journalist after a five-hour closed-door appeals hearing.

Saberi was charged with "cooperating with a hostile state." She had been reporting from Iran for the past six years but had allowed her press credentials to expire, her father said shortly after her Jan. 31 arrest.

The case has made for tense diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran as President Obama tries to engage America's longtime adversary. The White House had called the charges against Saberi baseless and demanded that she be freed.

Soon after she was convicted, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested the sentence could be reversed.

'A Miscarriage Of Justice'

Saberi, a native of Fargo, N.D., had been living in Iran for six years and had worked as a freelance reporter for several news organizations, including NPR, the British Broadcasting Corp. and ABC News.

NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller said the network was overjoyed at the news of Saberi's release.

"We are immensely grateful that the appeals court has ruled in Roxana's favor and are relieved that she is now free to return home with her family," Schiller said Monday. "Her story highlights the enormous challenges journalists face in many countries, and the unfortunate fact that freedom of the press cannot be taken for granted. In Roxana's case, the story has a happy ending, and we are delighted that she will once again be free to practice her profession."

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) told NPR that Saberi's release was "wonderful news."

"I felt it was a miscarriage of justice," he said. "This young woman was not engaged in espionage."

From North Dakota To Iran

Saberi, the daughter of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, was born in New Jersey and raised in North Dakota, where she was a pianist and a high school soccer star. In 1997, she was named Miss North Dakota. Before she was arrested in Iran, Saberi had been working toward a master's degree in Iranian studies and international relations. She was also writing a book about Iran.

According to her father, Saberi was detained Jan. 31 for buying a bottle of wine. Buying alcohol is banned under Iran's Islamic law.

"She said that she had bought a bottle of wine and the person that sold it had reported it and then they came and arrested her," Reza Saberi told NPR in an interview in March, adding that his daughter thought the incident was a pretext to arrest her.

On Monday, a friend of the Saberi family told NPR that she placed flowers at the family's door — along with a "Welcome Home" sign.

Reporting by NPR staff