Washington 'disappointed' by journalist's sentence

The White House said it was "deeply disappointed" by an eight-year prison sentence given to US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, accused of being a spy, on Saturday. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saberi should enjoy full legal rights.


AFP - US President Barack Obama was disappointed at news of the eight-year jail sentence given US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi by an Iranian court that accused her of being a spy, his spokesman said Saturday.

Obama "is deeply disappointed at this news. His thoughts and prayers are with her and her family," his spokesman Robert Gibbs said in Trinidad, where the US president was attending a Summit of the Americas.

"I think we will continue to express the concerns that we have through the Swiss to the Iranian government and make sure they underscore and understand our deep concern for these actions," Gibbs said.

The White House spokesman emphasized: "what we think is important is that the situation be remedied, and without getting too deeply into that, I'll leave it at that."

After speaking with the president about the case, US national security council spokesman Denis McDonough said that Obama "underscored our belief that she is wrongly charged, she is an American journalist who's just been practicing journalism."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also in Trinidad and Tobago, said she was "deeply disappointed" by Saberi's sentencing.

"We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government," she said in a statement.

The verdict came despite Clinton's calls for Saberi's release, and Obama's diplomatic overtures to Tehran after three decades of severed ties.

Saberi has been detained in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran since January, and went on trial behind closed doors on Monday accused of spying for the United States.

Saberi's father Reza told National Public Radio in an interview Saturday that he was concerned for his daughter's physical well-being in prison.

"She is very weak and frail, last time we saw," he said.

"She is quite depressed about this matter, and she wants to go on hunger strike. And if she does, she's so frail, it can be very dangerous to her health."

Saberi, who has been living in Iran for six years, reported for NPR, the BBC and Fox News. While working as a journalist she was also pursuing a master's degree in Iranian studies and international relations.

NPR president Vivian Schiller said the network was "deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence."

Saberi "has already endured a three-month confinement in Evin prison, and we are very concerned for her well-being," she added.

"We appeal to all of those who share our concerns to ask that the Iranian authorities show compassion and allow her to return home to the United States immediately with her parents."

The conviction "is a shocking miscarriage of justice," said US Senator Byron Dorgan, who represents the state of North Dakota, where Saberi's family lives.

"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," said Dorgan, adding that he would continue to work with the Saberi family, US State Department officials and the international community to gain her release.

"I will not rest until Roxana is given her freedom and arrives home in the US," added Dorgan in a statement following her conviction.

The state's other US senator, Kent Conrad, described her Saberi's sentence as "preposterous" and a "travesty of justice."

Iran, said Conrad, "is doing enormous damage to their credibility on the world stage with behavior like this."

The BBC said in a statement issued in London that it was "extremely concerned at this severe sentence."

"Roxana was tried in secret and no evidence of espionage has been made public," it said.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said in March that Saberi's press card had been revoked in 2006 and since then she had been working "illegally."

Earlier this week State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters that the charges of espionage against Saberi "are baseless, without foundation."

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