LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has urged his country's prosecutors to make sure that an Iranian-American journalist convicted of espionage be offered a full defense during her appeal. Roxana Saberi has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran. A White House spokesman says President Obama's thoughts and prayers are with Saberi's family.
Allison Keyes reports.
ALLISON KEYES: Freelance journalist Roxana Saberi was born in the U.S., but has lived in Iran for the past six years working for the BBC and NPR, among other news outlets. Saberi has been jailed since January when she was arrested after buying a bottle of wine, which is illegal under Islamic law.
Iran's hard-line Islamic government first accused Saberi for working without current press credentials, but this month she was charged with espionage. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement that the U.S. is working to ensure Saberi's well-being and to get details about the court's decision. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the president shares Clinton's concerns.
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Spokesman): The president is deeply disappointed at this news. His thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.
KEYES: But Gibbs declined to respond to questions over whether the Saberi case was a setback for already strained relations between the U.S. and Iran. During the Bush administration, the two nations clashed over Iran's nuclear program, which the U.S. suspects has military aims. But President Obama has been trying to ease tensions, saying before the Saberi sentencing was announced, that he wanted to hold talks with Iran over several issues.
Mr. GIBBS: What we think is important is that the situation be remedied.
KEYES: The Paris-based advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders, says the Saberi case is the latest example of how the Iranian authorities use spying charges to arrest journalists and tighten the gag on free expression. NPR's CEO, Vivian Schiller, says Saberi did terrific work at her six years as a regular NPR contributor.
Ms. VIVIAN SCHILLER (CEO, NPR): Roxana has shown herself to us to be nothing but a consummate - the consummate professional journalist. We are not aware of any wrongdoing on her behalf.
KEYES: Schiller says NPR is consulting with the other news outlets where Saberi worked, as well as going through diplomatic channels.
Ms. SCHILLER: We are in communication and outreach with the State Department, with the White House, with the U.N. ambassador from Iran in New York. We're trying every possible channel we can.
KEYES: Saberi's father told NPR the 31-year-old is deeply depressed, weak and frail. Roxana Saberi's lawyer has said he will appeal the sentence.
Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.
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