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RSF Says Charges Against U.S. Journalist Baseless

Roxana Saberi in an undated photo

Roxana Saberi in an undated photo

An Iranian court has convicted Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi of espionage and sentenced her to eight years in prison, according to her relatives and lawyer.

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed concern earlier this week over the charges brought against Saberi and called for her release. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari asked RSF's Iran researcher, Reza Moini, about the case.

RFE/RL: Iran has previously accused other journalists of espionage, and the charges are seen as an attempt to limit press freedom. Is there any basis for the spying charge against Roxana Saberi?

Reza Moini: The truth is that no court has been able to prove the spying charges that have been brought not only against Roxana Saberi, but [also] against a number of journalists who since 2000 have been charged with espionage. We believe that the charges are baseless and the way the [trial] was held behind closed doors indicates this. Also, the fact that no evidence in the case was provided to journalists and independent observers.

RFE/RL: What do you think is the motivation behind this case? Some speculate it's a reaction by hardliners to the recent overtures by the Obama administration, and that they're basically trying to complicate potential talks. What is your view?

Moini: This could be true. In the past, a number of Iranian-American citizens were jailed in Iran on the same charge so that later the Islamic Republic could use them as a means of pressure and specifically [use] hostages as bargaining chips. You know that a number of Iranian citizens are jailed in the U.S. for different reasons, including selling arms and other charges that have been brought against them by U.S. courts, and a number of officials from Iran's Revolutionary Guard remain in the detention of U.S. forces in Iraq. You can put these next to each other [to reach a conclusion].

RFE/RL: Several other Iranian-Americans have been jailed in Iran on similar serious charges only to be released later and return to the United States. Do you think the same thing will happen to Roxana Saberi?

Moini: First of all, we hope that Saberi will be released as early as today. But in practice the courts in Iran are a battlefield between different factions. There are many centers of power in Iran and the courts are being used for factional settlements, especially regarding international issues. We have seen this in many other cases of jailed journalists, but we really hope that Saberi -- who hasn’t committed any crime -- will be released as soon as possible.

RFE/RL: How many journalists are currently jailed in Iran and what are the charges against them?

Moini: Currently we have seven journalists and two bloggers in jail in Iran; so, in total nine journalists and bloggers are in the Islamic Republic's prisons. They are facing different charges; three of them -- Adnan Hassanpur, Mohammad Sadigh Kabudvand, and Mohammad Hassan Falahizadeh -- were sentenced to heavy prison terms for the same espionage charge [as Saberi].

RFE/RL: How would you describe the overall situation for journalists and freedom of press in Iran?

Moini: Iran is the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East and freedom of the press does not exist in Iran. Journalists are in a way under a Damocles' sword of baseless accusations that have nothing to do with their journalistic activities.

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