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Iran Careful in Response to US Criticism of Saberi Case


The head of Iran's judiciary has ordered a prompt and fair appeal process for imprisoned U.S.-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, who was convicted of spying last week after a one-day trial. Saberi's parents, who visited her in jail, report she is in good condition.

In what may be a sign that Iran is eager not to derail a nascent dialogue with the United States, the country's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi is ordering a quick and fair appeal process for U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi. Saberi was convicted of spying Saturday, and sentenced to eight years in prison.

In a memo to the Tehran prosecutor, Shahroudi wrote Saberi must have "access to fair consideration in [her] case, especially at the appeals stage, [since this] is an undeniable right of the accused."

"Various aspects of this case," he added, "including material and moral elements of the crime, must be considered ... in a careful, quick and fair way."

Saberi's parents also visited her in prison. Her mother, Akiko, said that she was happy because her daughter looked well.

"I think she is a stronger person than I thought," she said. "Her birthday is coming. Her birthday is this weekend and she is my birthday gift. And as far as she is healthy and she is taking good care of herself, I told her I will be o.k. Don't worry about me."

Saberi's father, Reza, complained that it took several hours to get inside the prison to see his daughter, and that they talked about a number things, including her situation.

"We talked about different things. We delivered some books that was a good news because she likes reading books and she said that she is with two other persons, two other ladies over there in the prison and she was looking forward for the appeal because she knew that this kind of verdict was too heavy for her," he said.

He also urged the judge to be "compassionate" in his decision and "pay close attention to all the evidence." Her mother went on to insist that her daughter could "never be a spy."

U.S. President Barack Obama indicated he was "gravely worried" about Saberi's safety and well-being, and called for Tehran to release her. He also said he is certain Saberi was "not engaged in any sort of espionage."

Saberi's trial and conviction have poured cold water on efforts by the Obama administration to resume dialogue with Iran, after a 30 year hiatus in diplomatic relations.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said President Obama should not pass judgment without knowing the details of the case. He says he advises not to comment on a lawsuit until its content is revealed. He says fortunately the Iranian judicial system has paid full consideration to the process of retrieving rights, such as the right of appealing a verdict in higher judicial references, and this right has also been reserved for Ms. Saberi and her lawyer.

Responding to criticism Saberi had not been able to consult her attorney at all stages of her trial, Qashqavi insisted she would have access to him. He says that the ongoing judicial process regarding her case has been in full accordance with the law, and that includes granting her access to her lawyer.

Iran's Press TV reported that Qashqavi also urged the United States to release five Iranians arrested by U.S. forces in Kurdistan in 2007. Iran claims that the five, who belong to the elite al-Quds Forces, were "abducted."

Iran experts say Tehran has been trying to pressure the United States into releasing the men by arresting dual-national scholars and journalists. Iran is believed to be holding former FBI agent Robert Levinson, in addition to several Iranian-Americans.

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