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Iran top judge urges fair appeals process for jailed US journalist

[JURIST] Iran's judiciary on Monday ordered fair appellate proceedings for a US journalist convicted [JURIST report] this week of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison. Iran's top judge Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi [BBC profile] said the appeal [BBC report] by journalist Roxana Saberi [BBC profile], a dual US-Iran citizen who was originally arrested for illegally purchasing alcohol, should be fair and accurate. Shahrudi's declaration came after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile] implicitly criticized [Financial Times report] the judiciary's handling of Saberi's case. On Sunday, Ahmadinejad told [IRNA report; JURIST report] Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi to manage the appeal in a way that allows Saberi to defend herself freely. Saberi's lawyer said he would file an appeal [AFP report] by week's end.

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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