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Iranian President: Ensure Jailed Reporter's Rights

Iranian-American Journalist Roxana Saberi
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Iran's judiciary to ensure that an Iranian-American journalist jailed for espionage enjoys her legal right to defend herself.

The letter from Ahmadinejad's office to Tehran's prosecutor was published a day after Roxana Saberi was sentenced to eight years in jail for spying for the United States, the official IRNA news agency said on April 19.

Saberi's lawyer has said he would appeal the sentence, which comes at a time when the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama is trying to engage the Islamic Republic diplomatically following three decades of mutual mistrust.

IRNA said the letter from Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, to prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi dealt with Saberi's case as well as that of detained Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan.

"Based on the president's insistence, please make sure that all the legal stages about the mentioned people be based on justice... and you personally make sure that the accused people will enjoy all freedoms and legal rights to defend themselves and their rights will not be violated " the letter said.

Saberi's lawyer welcomed the president's letter.

"We also want what the president wants, especially regarding making meeting my client easier, and also we want [the judiciary] to be more accurate at the appeals stage," lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi told Reuters.

He said Shirin Ebadi, Iran's 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, would join the defense team in Saberi's case.

The White House said on April 18 that Obama was "deeply disappointed" by the sentencing of Saberi, a U.S.-born freelance reporter who has worked for the BBC and National Public Radio.

The United States has called the espionage charges against Saberi "baseless" and demanded her immediate release.

Saberi, 31, who is a citizen of both the United States and Iran, was arrested in January for working in Iran after her press credentials had expired.

One Iranian political analyst, who declined to be named, told Reuters after Saberi was sentenced he believed the verdict would be commuted or reduced by a higher court.

Washington cut ties with Iran shortly after the Islamic revolution in 1979 but Obama has offered a new beginning of diplomatic engagement on a range of issues if Tehran "unclenches its fist."

Iran says it wants to see a real switch in Washington's policies away from those of former President George W. Bush, who led a drive to isolate the country because of nuclear work the West suspects has military aims, a charge Iran denies.