US President Barack Obama has expressed his deep disappointment after Iran sentenced a US-Iranian journalist to eight years in jail on charges of spying for the US.
The verdict handed down to 31-year-old Roxana Saberi, a former US beauty queen, is the harshest sentence ever meted out to a dual national on security charges in Iran and comes just weeks after Obama proposed better ties with Tehran.
Obama “is deeply disappointed at this news. His thoughts and prayers are with her and her family,” his spokesman Robert Gibbs said in Trinidad, where the president was attending the Summit of the Americas. “What we think is important is that the situation be remedied. We will continue to express the concerns that we have.”
The sentence handed down on Saturday came weeks after Obama issued a message to Iranians on the occasion of the Iranian New Year.
Saberi has been detained since January in Tehran’s Evin prison, initially reported to have been held for buying alcohol — an illegal act in the Islamic republic.
She was later charged with spying and put on trial last Monday. The espionage charges, which US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said last week were “baseless [and] without foundation,” could have brought the death penalty.
Saberi, who is also of Japanese descent, has reported for US-based National Public Radio (NPR), the BBC and Fox News, and had lived in Iran for six years.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said last month that Saberi’s press card had been revoked in 2006 and that she had been working “illegally” since then.
Haddad said Saberi had entered Iran, which does not recognize dual nationality, as an Iranian citizen and “there is no evidence that she has another citizenship.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday called for fair treatment of Saberi, state news agency IRNA reported.
He said the Tehran prosecutor should examine the case against Saberi and also against Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger who has been behind bars since November, IRNA said.