Iran says U,S,-Iranian reporter appeals jail term

TEHRAN Tue Apr 21, 2009 5:41pm BST

1 of 6. US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi in an undated photo.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian-American journalist jailed by Tehran for spying has appealed against her eight-year sentence, the judiciary said on Tuesday as her father warned she would starve herself to death if the verdict was upheld.

Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said he hoped the verdict against U.S.-born Roxana Saberi would be changed, the official IRNA news agency reported, without elaborating.

Her father Reza said he could not confirm the appeal had been lodged but that he saw "positive steps toward justice" in the case and hoped she would be freed by a higher court.

Saberi, 31, was sentenced on Saturday on charges of spying for the United States, in a verdict that could complicate Washington's efforts toward reconciliation with the Islamic Republic after three decades of mutual mistrust.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on Tehran's general prosecutor to ensure that the freelance reporter enjoys full legal rights to defend herself. The judiciary chief has said her appeal must be dealt with "in a careful, quick and fair way."

"We hope that in the court of appeal the verdict will be overturned and our daughter will become free," Reza Saberi said in the Tehran apartment where she was arrested in late January.

But if the sentence was upheld, she "will most probably go on hunger strike and she will commit suicide," he told Reuters, his Japanese wife Akiko sitting beside him.

"She won't stay there for eight years ... even for eight months is too much for her," said the soft-spoken 68-year-old, who moved to the United States in 1973 and returned with his wife earlier this month to follow their daughter's case.

"DESPERATE TO GET OUT"

Saberi's lawyer had said on Monday he would appeal next week, telling Reuters that he was "very hopeful and optimistic" that she would be acquitted or at least have her sentence cut.

IRNA quoted Jamshidi, the judiciary spokesman, as saying: "Saberi has appealed and I hope that the appeal court will change the verdict."

Saberi, a citizen of both the United States and Iran, was arrested for working in the Islamic state after her press credentials had expired. She was later charged with espionage.

"She has not spied and we're absolutely certain she hasn't done anything wrong," said her father, who visited her in Tehran's Evin prison on Monday.

She shared a cell with two other female prisoners and was "not in a bad condition," Reza Saberi said. But he added she was physically frail and seemed "desperate to get out of there."

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday expressed deep concern for her safety, urging Tehran to release her.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said releasing Saberi, who has worked for the BBC and U.S. National Public Radio, would serve as a goodwill gesture.

Tehran, which does not recognize dual nationality, says Washington should respect the independence of Iran's judiciary.

Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based media rights group, has called Saberi's conviction "unjust under the Iranian criminal code," saying it was a warning to foreign reporters working in Iran before its presidential election in June.

(Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb, Editing by Mark Trevelyan)