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Iran Says U.S. Journalist Was Working Illegally

Journalist Roxana Saberi in Tehran in 2004
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iranian officials say a U.S. freelance journalist reportedly detained in Iran more than a month ago had been working illegally in the Islamic Republic.

The father of Roxana Saberi said on March 1 that his daughter had been held in Iran since January 31, ostensibly for buying a bottle of wine, and that there had been no information about her for more than two weeks.

Saberi, a 31-year-old Iranian-American born in the United States, has reported for the BBC, NPR, and other media.

Asked about the case, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said her press card was withdrawn about two years ago.

"This female reporter's press card was taken away [in the Iranian year that ended in March 2007]...and she should not have engaged in collecting news and information illegally," Qashqavi told a news conference.

"Her mission in collecting news and information from Iran...has been completely illegal," he said, referring to the time since the press card was taken away.

He did not give details on her whereabouts, referring to Iran's judiciary for further comment.

Reza Saberi confirmed on March 1 that his daughter's credentials as a correspondent had been revoked, but said she had stayed in Tehran to pursue a master's degree and was doing research for a book about Iranian society.

Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties for three decades and are currently embroiled in a row over Tehran's disputed nuclear ambitions.