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Iran court tries US journalist on espionage charges

[JURIST] A spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary announced Tuesday that an imprisoned US journalist was tried on espionage charges Monday. The Revolutionary Court of Iran conducted the trial of Roxana Saberi [advocacy website], accused of passing classified information to US intelligence agencies, in proceedings closed to the public [AP report]. 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]. The verdict from Saberi's trial is expected within several weeks. If convicted, Saberi could face 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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