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Ahmadinejad To Judiciary: Ensure Reporter's Rights

Jailed journalist Roxana Saberi
( RFE/RL) -- Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has called for a journalist convicted of espionage to receive fair treatment from the country's judiciary.

Roxana Saberi, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who has reported for National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News, was found guilty of spying for the United States in a closed-door trial on April 18 and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Ahmadinejad also called for fair treatment for Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger, who has been arrested in Iran last November.

In a letter to Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi on April 19, Ahmadinejad ordered him to "take care that the defendants have all the legal freedoms and rights to defend themselves against the charges."

U.S. President Barack Obama said on April 19 that Washington was monitoring the situation and would be in touch with Tehran about the case through Swiss intermediaries.

"Obviously I'm gravely concerned with her safety and well being," Obama told a news conference in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, where he was attending the Fifth Summit of the Americas.

"We are working to make sure that she is properly treated and to get information about the disposition of her case. She is an American citizen and I have complete confidence that she was not engaging in any sort of espionage," he added. "She is an Iranian-American who was interested in the country which her family came from and it is appropriate for her to be treated as such and be released."

After the sentence on April 18, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama was "deeply disappointed at this news. His thoughts and prayers are with her and her family."

Cindy Larson-Casselton, a friend of Saberi's family in her home state of North Dakota, said the journalist's parents have filed an appeal to secure her release.

"I do know that there's an appeals process that can happen and I am certain it probably will be happening. That's now what we'll be hanging on to in terms of hope, is that the appeal process will go in Roxana's favor," Larson-Casselton said.

Likewise, Amy Klobuchar, a U.S. senator from Minnesota, called the verdict against Saberi "an injustice" and "a farce," adding that efforts are under way to bring the jailed reporter home.

"As a former prosecutor I'm just offended that they would have a trial behind closed doors," Klobuchar said. "No one can see the evidence, no one knows what really happened here. We need to bring Roxana Saberi home. She should not be made a pawn in an international game. And so I will continue to push through whatever means -- diplomacy, public pressure, through the Department of State, through the UN -- we have to bring her home.”

Saberi’s parents, who are currently in Iran to pursue their daughter's case, have voiced their concern about her physical and mental state in prison.

The 31-year-old journalist has been detained since January in Tehran's Evin prison.

The United States has condemned Saberi’s sentence as "baseless" and "without any foundation." U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, "we will vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government."

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said in March that Saberi’s press accreditation had been revoked in 2006 and that she has been working “illegally” since then.

However, Mashaallah Shams-al-Waezin, the spokesman for the Iranian Foundation for Protection of Free Press, dismissed that accusation.

"We don’t have such a law that says everyone who is engaged in journalistic activities has to get permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance," Shams-al-Waezin said. "It is a separate issue when the Ministry wants to give a foreign news network permission to operate in Tehran. But in a freelance correspondent’s case, only [journalistic] syndicates have the right to verify their career as a journalist."

RFE/RL's Radio Farda contributed to this report