By Ali Akbar Dareini
The Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — On May 12, American journalist Roxana Saberi said she was very happy to be free and thanked those who helped win her release after four months in an Iranian prison, as new details emerged about the evidence presented against her at her espionage trial.
One of Saberi’s lawyers said she was originally convicted in part because she had visited Israel and she kept a confidential Iranian government document about the U.S. war in Iraq, which she obtained while working as a freelance Web translator for a powerful body connected to Iran’s ruling clerics.
Speaking to reporters in Tehran for the first time since her release on Monday, a smiling Saberi said she did not have any specific plans but wanted to spend time with her family. She looked thin but energetic, dressed in a bright blue headscarf, black pants, and a black dress.
“I am very happy that I have been released and reunited with my father and mother. I am very grateful to all the people who knew me, or didn’t know me, and helped for my release,” she said in brief remarks outside her home in north Tehran. “I don’t have any specific plans for the time being. I want to stay with my parents.”
Her Iranian-born father, Reza Saberi, said his daughter “was not tortured at all” while in custody but that she made incriminating statements about herself under pressure. He said his daughter initially pleaded guilty to the charges under pressure but retracted her statements later and the appeals court accepted that. He did not elaborate on the sort of pressure.
He told reporters that the family was making plans to return home to the United States but probably would not be ready to leave for the next couple days.
“She has lost a lot of weight,” he said, adding, “She is eating well. She is recovering.”
The younger Saberi was freed after an appeals court reduced her original eight-year prison sentence to a two-year suspended sentence.
The 32-year-old journalist, who has dual Iranian and American citizenship, was convicted of spying for the United States in mid-April in a swift, secret trial before a security court that lasted only 15 minutes.
One of Saberi’s lawyers, Saleh Nikbakht, revealed new details of the case on Tuesday. He said Saberi had copied and kept a “confidential document” about the U.S. war in Iraq, which was issued by a research center connected to the Iranian president’s office, and that this was used against her in her original conviction.
Saberi obtained the document while she was working as a freelance translator for the Expediency Council, a powerful body in Iran’s ruling clerical hierarchy, Nikbakht said. The council’s role is to mediate between the legislature, presidency, and ruling clerics over constitutional disputes. The lawyer said Saberi was occasionally working as a translator for council’s Web site two years ago.
During her trial, prosecutors also cited a trip to Israel that Saberi made in 2006 as evidence against her, the lawyer said. The Iranian government bars its citizens from visiting Israel.
In her appeal court session on Sunday, Saberi admitted to the court that she possessed the document. She said she copied it out of “curiosity,” but she said she didn’t share it with American officials, Nikbakht said. She apologized for doing so, and the court reduced the charge against her from espionage to possessing confidential documents.
She also acknowledged visiting Israel but said her activities there were not directed against Iran, he said.
Her original conviction was also on charges of working with a “hostile country,” referring to the United States. But Nikbakht said the appeals court dropped that charge, ruling that the U.S. is not a hostile country because the two countries are not at war.
Washington had called the espionage charges against Saberi “baseless” and repeatedly demanded her release. The case was an irritant in U.S.–Iran relations at a time when President Barack Obama was offering to restart a dialogue with Tehran after decades of shunning the country.
But Saberi’s release cleared one obstacle to closer contacts. It could also help hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad win some domestic political points a month before he faces a re-election challenge from reformers who seek to ease Iran’s bitter rivalry with the United States.
Saberi, who was crowned the 1997 Miss North Dakota, moved to Iran six years ago and had worked as a freelance journalist for several organizations, including NPR and the British Broadcasting Corp. She was arrested in late January. ♦
Associated Press Writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.