[Marxism] Released Iranian journalist reportedly had classified document

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed May 13 00:34:23 MDT 2009


>From the Los Angeles Times
Iran frees U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi
A letter from Ahmadinejad is thought to have helped sway the court decision,
despite objections from intelligence officials. Saberi is said to have had a
classified Iranian report in her possession.
By Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim

May 12, 2009

Reporting from Tehran and Beirut - A copy of a classified Iranian government
report about the U.S. war in Iraq in the possession of journalist Roxana
Saberi was a key piece of evidence that led to her conviction on espionage
charges, one of the Iranian American journalist's lawyers disclosed Monday.

But a letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for a careful review
of the case helped secure her swift release Monday, another of her lawyers
said, in an appellate court ruling that surprised Iran watchers and removed
a stumbling block in the effort to improve U.S.-Iranian relations.

Iranian intelligence and security officials had argued fiercely for her
imprisonment up to the last moment of her lengthy appeals court hearing
Sunday, the second attorney said. 

But the court slashed Saberi's sentence from eight years in prison to a
suspended two-year term and ordered her released. Saberi's parents and
lawyers said she would be leaving Iran within days. 

As the appellate court announced the ruling, the 32-year-old journalist
wept. "I saw her tears of joy, and this was the best moment," said
Abdul-Samad Khorramshahi, Saberi's lead attorney.

Analysts say Saberi's case carries implications for the Obama administration
as it seeks to improve relations with Tehran and resolve long-standing
grievances over Iran's nuclear program and support for militant anti-Israeli

Saberi's arrest demonstrated the unpredictability of Iran's fragmented,
multilayered political and security system, where dissidents, politicians
and journalists are sometimes arrested for transgressing undefined
ideological and national security rules, such as by having contact with the

But Saberi's release also showed a system capable of flexibility, pragmatism
and even damage control. Calls by some senior Iranian officials to review
the case suggest that at least some of them were well aware of the harm
Saberi's continued imprisonment was doing to the country's image and opted
to do away with the distraction rather than satisfy hard-liners. 

"If we assume that this was due to infighting in the government between
those who wanted to undermine diplomacy and those who want to give it a
chance, I would conclude that the latter group has been able to succeed in a
rather swift and impressive way," said Trita Parsi, president of the
Washington-based National Iranian American Council and author of
"Treacherous Alliances," about relations between Iran, the United States and

"The amount of political will and maneuvering it takes to reduce an
eight-year sentence to two years and then commute the last two years and
release her on the spot is far greater than having a one-day kangaroo court
and sentencing her in the first place," he said. 

Even Stephane Lherbier, a French sailor arrested after straying into Iranian
waters and initially accused of espionage, served 15 months in prison on a
maritime trespassing charge.

Saberi faced far graver accusations and more formidable adversaries. After
weeks in isolation and continuous interrogation inside Tehran's Evin Prison,
she was hustled into a courtroom April 14 and convicted of espionage in a
trial that lasted less than an hour. Authorities said she confessed to
passing on intelligence to the United States. 

Through her lawyer, Saberi quickly recanted, insisting her confession was
made under duress. 

Khorramshahi filed an appeal. Saberi quickly became an international cause
celebre. Portraits of the daughter of a Japanese-born mother and
Iranian-born father stared out from newspapers and websites around the
world. A distorted but compelling narrative of menacing mullahs locking up a
former beauty queen inspired online petition drives and Facebook pages.

But forces continued to work behind the scenes to thwart attempts to release
Saberi. High-profile human rights attorneys say they were barred from
joining her defense.

A prosecutor and two Intelligence Ministry officials squared off against
Saberi, Khorramshahi and co-counsel Saleh Nikbakht before a two-judge
appellate panel Sunday.

The prosecutor accused Saberi of passing on to American officials a
classified Iranian report about U.S. involvement in Iraq that she obtained
while working at the Strategic Studies Center of Iran's Expediency Council,
a powerful board of clerics that mediates government disputes, Nikbakht

She was also accused of visiting Israel four or five times, considered a
crime for Iranian nationals, and accused of having sexual relations with
Iranian officials. 

Saberi apologized for possessing the think tank document; she denied having
any intimate relations with Iranian officials and said she made two visits
to Israel to look for journalism work, Nikbakht said.

Her lawyers produced court rulings and official statements to argue that the
United States was not a hostile state like Israel and that simply having
contact with American officials did not prove Saberi was passing on
information, Nikbakht said. 

On Monday, the appeals court announced that it had suspended Saberi's
sentence and banned her from practicing journalism in Iran for five years,
releasing her immediately from prison.

Khorramshahi told the Islamic Republic News Agency that Ahmadinejad's letter
helped secure Saberi's release. 

Ali Reza Jamshidi, the spokesman for Iran's judiciary, told state television
that a judicial review found that Saberi had been sentenced too harshly in
the first place and was being let out of jail quickly because she was a
first-time offender.

Lawyers and officials said the judges also accepted the defense argument
that the U.S. wasn't a hostile state.

"For different reasons," Jamshidi said, "including her cooperation, the fact
that she has expressed regret and also the fact that this was the first time
she committed an offense and because of the Islamic principles of compassion
and mercy, the overall verdict of the judges was that she deserves to
receive a suspended jail sentence." 

daragahi at latimes.com

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