Iran releases American journalist

Spying sentence was reduced

The Associated PressMay 12, 2009 

— An American journalist imprisoned on espionage charges in Iran for four months was freed Monday and reunited with her smiling, tearful parents, who prepared to return home with her to the U.S. in the coming days.

The release of Roxana Saberi clears a major obstacle to President Barack Obama's attempts at a dialogue with the top U.S. adversary in the Middle East. Washington had called the charges against the 32-year-old dual Iranian-American citizen baseless and repeatedly demanded her release.

Saberi's Iranian-born father, Reza Saberi, wiped away tears, then flashed a broad smile as he and his wife, Akiko, arrived at Tehran's Evin prison -- notorious for holding political prisoners -- to meet their daughter.

"I'm very happy that she is free. Roxana is in good condition," Reza Saberi said later at his family home in Tehran. "We had expected her release but not so soon. She will be preparing to leave [Iran] tomorrow or the day after tomorrow."

The younger Saberi, who was taken out of Evin through a back door away from journalists, was not seen after her release. She was staying with her parents at a friend's home, apparently to avoid publicity before leaving Iran.

Her release came when an appeals court reduced her eight-year prison sentence on charges of spying for the U.S. to a two-year suspended sentence, said Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi. He said Saberi was free to leave Iran.

The court ordered the reduction as a gesture of "Islamic mercy" because she had cooperated with authorities and had expressed regret, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed the release.

"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 in a statement.

The release ends an ordeal for Saberi, who was convicted and sentenced in a secret session by a security court. Her father said the trial lasted only 15 minutes and her lawyer was not given time to defend her.

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