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Iran Court Cuts Jail Term For U.S.-Iranian Scholar

Kian Tajbakhsh

Kian Tajbakhsh

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- An Iranian appeal court has reduced to five years the jail sentence for an Iranian-American scholar detained after last year's disputed election and accused of espionage, an Iranian news agency reported today.

In October, official media said Kian Tajbakhsh was sentenced to more than 12 years in jail.

"The appeal court sentenced my five years in jail," said lawyer Houshang Azhari, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.

"It was a very good reduction...about two-thirds of the initial sentence," he said.

Last year, the U.S. State Department said it had been told that Tajbakhsh was jailed for 15 years and it urged Tehran to immediately release him, saying the United States was deeply concerned about the long jail term.

Tajbakhsh was among thousands of people detained after the presidential poll in June last year, which plunged the Islamic republic into turmoil. He was accused of espionage and acting against national security.

The moderate opposition says the vote was rigged to secure President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's reelection. Officials deny the accusations.

Iranian authorities have portrayed the protests that erupted after the election as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic republic's clerical leadership.

Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American who holds a doctorate in urban planning from Columbia University, was first arrested by Iranian authorities in May 2007, charged with spying, and then released after more than four months in Tehran's Evin prison.

The United States, which cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after the revolution, accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is to generate electricity so it can export more oil and gas.