Iran says a U.S.-Iranian journalist who has been held at Tehran's Evin prison since January, has been put on trial on charges of spying for the United States. The charges carry a possible death penalty.
A spokesman for Iran's judiciary says American journalist Roxana Saberi, went on trial Monday and a verdict is expected "within the next two or three weeks."
Saberi, who holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, was first accused by Iranian officials of working in the country without press credentials when she was arrested in January. An Iranian judge added the more serious charge of "spying for the United States," last week.
The State Department has called the allegations, "baseless," and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Tehran to release Saberi.
Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi criticized the United States for rushing to judgment to defend Saberi. "Expressing an opinion without seeing the indictment", he said, "is laughable."
Former U.S. National Security Council official Gary Sick says the most important question, in his mind, is whether Iran has allowed Saberi's lawyer to see the charges against her.
"The one thing I would really want to know, which undoubtedly will be reported in the course of the day from various human rights organizations, is whether her lawyer had an opportunity to even see the charges, or be present," he said. "If that is not the case, because he had not been consulted in the past, and the charges were unavailable to him, then it's a travesty. If they are going to try somebody, the charges should at least be made available to the person's lawyer, the lawyer should be present at the trial and there should be an opportunity for people to review the charges."
Soazig Dollet of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says that her organization has been told that Saberi was finally allowed to consult her attorney, and that he was present at the hearing, Monday. "This is an unusual case," she added, "and we are worried."
Iran expert Ali Nourizadeh who runs the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London says he believes the case is political.
"As far as I know she did not commit any crime. What she did according to what the judiciary said that her license was not renewed and she continued to work for the media she was working for," said Nourizadeh. "She was doing her work and she was using legitimate ways of transmitting, so the whole thing is a political one."
Nourizadeh added that a "positive mood" over possible negotiations between Iran and the group of five permanent U.N. Security Council members, plus Germany, will probably push Iran to "show good will," and release Saberi.