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Iran Frees American Journalist Roxana Saberi

Jailed American journalist Roxana Saberi has been freed, following the decision of an Iranian appeals court to reduce her original eight-year sentence for spying. Her lawyer says she shed tears of relief at the news.

Friends and supporters of jailed U.S.-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi rejoiced over the decision by an Iranian appeals court to release her, and Saberi wept after hearing the news.

Eyewitnesses say that Saberi was released from a secret exit of Tehran's Evin prison, rather than the main gate, where journalists and supporters had gathered to see her.

Release was a surprise

Saberi's father Reza called his daughter's release "an unexpected surprise," telling reporters at her house in northern Tehran that she was "well."

Iran's Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi confirmed Saberi's sentence had been reduced by an appeals court, following Sunday's hearing.

Saberi's initial eight-year conviction on charges of espionage were reduced to a two-year suspended sentence, according to her attorney Abdulsamad Khorramshahi. He told journalists the Saberi case was one of the most gratifying he had ever taken on.

Incorrect interpretation of penal code

Saberi's second attorney, Saleh Nikbakht, told VOA the appellate judge ruled the Revolutionary Court, which tried her initially, had incorrectly interpreted the penal code.

You know, he says, the Revolutionary court sentenced her to an eight-year jail sentence for spying, cooperation with the United States as hostile government. We told them the USA is not hostile, although Iran and the USA do have political, economic and ideological problems.

Nikbakht adds that Iran's Supreme Court ruled, several years ago, the United States was not a "hostile nation," giving ammunition to his case.

He says that according to Iran's constitution, the court is not able name a country hostile. Only the Supreme Court is able to do that, and five years ago, the Supreme Court of Iran emphasized that the United States is not hostile. With these facts, he insists, the Appeals Court denied the charge [against Saberi] of cooperation with a hostile government.

Rights organizations lobbied for release

Human rights organizations across the world, including Reporters Without Borders, had lobbied for Saberi's release, calling her initial conviction "politically motivated."

The United States had repeatedly called the Iranian spying charges against Saberi "baseless" and had pleaded for her immediate release.

Saberi will reportedly be allowed to return home to the United States and under the terms of her suspended sentence will not be allowed to practice journalism in Iran for 5 years.