Iranian president orders review of Roxana Saberi’s case

New York, April 20, 2009–In response to a letter sent on Sunday by Iran’s president urging the public prosecutor to ensure justice for Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, the Committee to Protect Journalists called today for Saberi to be released on bail pending her appeal. An Iranian Revolutionary Court found Saberi guilty of espionage and sentenced her to eight years in prison on Saturday in a closed, one-day trial.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s office sent the letter to the public prosecutor asking him to ensure that Saberi and jailed Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan are given an opportunity to exercise all legal rights.

“Please take the necessary measures to ensure that the process of examining the charges against [Saberi and Derakhshan] are being carried out carefully and fairness, justice, and regulations are observed,” the BBC quoted Ahmadinejad’s letter as saying. The letter was posted on the Web site of the Iranian News Agency (IRNA). “Please, personally observe the process to ensure that the defendants are allowed all legal rights and freedom in defending themselves and that their rights are not violated even by one iota,” the letter said.

Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi, the chief of the judiciary, also ordered the public prosecutor to “quickly and fairly” reconsider different aspects of Saberi’s case, IRNA reported.

“We are appealing to the essential fairness of the Iranian people in asking that Roxana Saberi be given every right guaranteed to her under the law,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We are hopeful that the appeals process will be transparent and just. In the meantime, we call on the Iranian authorities to release Saberi on bail pending her appeal so that she can fully participate in her legal defense.”

Derakhshan has been detained since November 2008, although many details about his case are unclear.

“We are also concerned about the secrecy surrounding the detention of Hossein Derakhshan, who has been in custody for more than five months,” said Abdel Dayem.  

Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, Saberi’s lawyer, told Reuters today that the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, will be joining Saberi’s defense team soon.

Iranian authorities first detained Saberi, 31, in January and since then she has been held at Tehran’s Evin Prison. She was not officially charged until April 8 when Hassan Haddad, deputy public prosecutor, announced that she had been charged with espionage.

Saberi has been living in Iran since 2003. During that period she filed reports for NPR, Fox News, the BBC, and other international news organizations. Her press credentials were revoked in 2006, but she continued to file short news items with government permission, according to NPR.