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Iran court jails US journalist on espionage charges

[JURIST] The Revolutionary Court of Iran convicted US journalist Roxana Saberi [advocacy website] of espionage earlier, sentencing her to eight years in prison, according to her lawyer Saturday. The trial, in which Saberi was accused of passing classified information to US intelligence agencies, was conducted earlier this week [JURIST report] in proceedings closed to the public [AP report], and news of her conviction [NYT report] came from press contact with Saberi's father and her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi. Saberi was arrested [NYT report] last month after buying a bottle of wine, as alcohol consumption is banned in Iran. Initially, it appeared she would face charges for working as a freelance journalist for NPR and the BBC without Iranian press credentials, but once she was in custody the Iranian government charged her with espionage [AP report]. US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton [official profile], have called for Saberi to be released [NYT report]. Clinton expressed disappointment [press release] Saturday with the court's decision. Under Iranian law, espionage is punishable by execution.

Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists [advocacy website] reported that Iran ranked sixth in the world [report] for total number of imprisoned journalists. In the past two years, Iran has arrested several journalists and scholars on espionage charges. In 2007, Iran accused four Iranian-Americans of belonging to a US-organized spy network. Iran formally charged [JURIST report] Iranian-American scholar Dr. Haleh Esfandiari [WWC profile] for allegedly plotting "against the sovereignty of the country." Iran also charged Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh [OSI press release] and Radio Farda [media website] correspondent Parnaz Azima with allegedly engaging in an espionage conspiracy [JURIST report]. An Iranian judge said that Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh admitted to carrying out some "activities" [JURIST report], although it was unclear if their statements were tantamount to an admission of spying.

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