An Iranian American journalist accused of spying for the U.S. was sentenced by an Iranian court Saturday to eight years in prison, a move likely to strain the Obama administration’s recent overtures to improve relations with Tehran.
Roxana Saberi, 31, who had reported for the BBC and National Public Radio, had faced espionage charges during a trial Monday before Iran’s Revolutionary Court.
“The eight-year sentence is true. I will appeal the verdict,” said Saberi’s lawyer, Abdul-Samad Khorramshahi. It was not known if she was convicted Saturday or after her court appearance.
Saberi, who was arrested nearly three months ago and is being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison, could have received up to 10 years in prison or even the death penalty. She was charged with spying on Iran, in the guise of a journalist, and passing information and documents on to U.S. intelligence services.
The U.S. had condemned the accusations against Saberi as “baseless and without foundation.” On Saturday, President Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” by the conviction, a White House spokesman said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington would “continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government. Our thoughts are with her parents and family during this difficult time.”
The sentencing followed indications Thursday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Islamic Republic wanted to improve relations with the West and would offer proposals to resolve the standoff over his country’s nuclear program. It is uncertain what effect Saberi’s case will have on Washington’s diplomatic strategy, but it puts pressure on Obama at a time when Iran’s influence is growing in the Middle East.
“This is a shocking miscarriage of justice,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, where Saberi grew up and was named Miss North Dakota in 1997. Dorgan, a Democrat, added in a statement that the “Iranian government has held a secret trial, will not make public any evidence, and sentenced an American citizen to eight years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. I call on the Iranian government to show compassion.”