Iran's judiciary chief has ordered a full investigation into the case of U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi, who was convicted of spying and sentenced to eight years in prison, the state news agency reported.
On Monday, Saberi's parents saw their daughter for the first time since she was sentenced and said she was in good condition.
"She seems to be OK," Reza Saberi told The Associated Press after he and his wife, Akiko, visited their 31-year-old daughter in Evin prison north of Tehran.
The country's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, said the investigation during the appeals process should be "precise, quick and fair," according to the official news agency IRNA. The unusual decision came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked the chief Tehran prosecutor to ensure that Saberi is allowed to offer a full defense in the appeal.
A Swipe At Obama
The developments appear to be the latest signs that some senior Iranian officials want to ensure that tensions over the case do not derail moves toward a dialogue with the Obama administration to break a 30-year diplomatic deadlock between the two countries.
However, Iran's Foreign Ministry took a swipe at U.S. President Obama, saying "those who studied law" should not comment on the case without seeing the context. It was a clear reference to Obama, who studied law at Harvard University and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago before becoming president.
On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton renewed calls for Iran to release Saberi.
Clinton said the journalist is innocent and should be freed immediately. She also said she hoped for positive action from the full investigation into the case ordered by Iran's judiciary chief and Ahmadinejad's request that Saberi be allowed a full defense on appeal.
"We believe she should be freed immediately, that the charges against her are baseless and that she has been subjected to a process that has been nontransparent, unpredictable (and) arbitrary," Clinton told reporters at the State Department.
"We hope that actions will be taken as soon as possible by the authorities in Iran, including the judiciary, to bring about the speedy release of Miss Saberi and her return home," she said, adding that the Obama administration is continuing to work with Swiss intermediaries who represent U.S. interests in Iran to secure her freedom.
Father Calls Proceedings 'A Mock Trial'
Iran has released very few facts about Saberi's case and initially said she was arrested in January for working without press credentials. The government later charged the dual American-Iranian citizen with spying for the United States and convicted her in a one-day trial behind closed doors.
It was the first time Iran has found an American journalist guilty of espionage — a crime that can carry the death penalty. Saberi's lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, has said he will appeal the verdict.
A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Hasan Qashqavi, said Monday that the charges against Saberi included "gathering information and news in an illegal way." He said Saberi was treated like any other Iranian citizen during her trial. Iran's legal system does not recognize dual nationality.
Saberi's father, who is Iranian-born, told National Public Radio on Saturday that his daughter was not allowed a proper defense during her one-day trial a week ago. He said she had been tricked into making incriminating statements by officials who told her they would free her if she did.
Reza Saberi called the proceedings "a mock trial" during an interview with CNN on Sunday from Iran, where he traveled with his wife to seek their daughter's release.
Obama said Sunday that he was "gravely concerned" about Saberi's safety and well-being and was confident that she was not involved in espionage.
The visit by Saberi's parents may help ease some of those concerns.
"As far as she is healthy and she is taking good care of herself, I told her I will be OK," Akiko Saberi said. She denied that her daughter was a spy, saying "once you know her, she is the last person to do that."
Ahmadinejad Letter Criticized
The U.S. has called the charges against Saberi baseless and said Iran would gain U.S. goodwill if it "responded in a positive way" to the case.
Ahmadinejad said the case must be carried out carefully with fairness and justice and that "her rights must not be violated by one iota." He sent a letter to Tehran's chief prosecutor Sunday urging him to ensure that Saberi be allowed to offer a full defense during her appeal.
The hard-line Iranian newspaper Jomhuri criticized Ahmadinejad's letter to the Tehran prosecutor in an editorial Monday, saying government intervention in the judiciary is banned by the constitution. It also said the letter implied that the judiciary had not upheld Saberi's rights.
Saberi, a Fargo, N.D., native, had been living in Iran for six years and had worked as a freelance reporter for several news organizations, including NPR and the BBC.
Her father said she had been working on a book about Iranian culture and hoped to finish it and return to the U.S. this year.
The United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran after its 1979 Islamic revolution and takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Relations deteriorated further under former President George W. Bush, who labeled Iran as part of the so-called Axis of Evil. Obama has indicated a desire to reverse that trend.
From NPR staff and wire reports.