March 4, 2009 / 1:47 PM / 11 years ago

U.S.-Iranian writer held in Evin jail

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s judiciary says an Iranian-American freelance journalist, whose father said she was detained more than a month ago, was being held in Tehran’s Evin prison on the orders of a court that handles state security.

Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said on Tuesday he did not know what Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old who was born in the United States and who has reported for the BBC, NPR and other media, was being accused of.

But he told a news conference that a revolutionary court, which under Iran’s legal system deals with state security issues as well as other areas of the law, had decided on her detention. Saberi holds dual nationality.

The case comes after U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has made clear it is interested in engaging with Iran to address suspicions it is seeking a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear programme is a peaceful drive for electricity.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman on Monday said Saberi had been working illegally in Iran after her press card was withdrawn about two years ago.

“Upon the ruling issued by the revolutionary court she is now in detention at Evin prison,” Jamshidi said. “I don’t know anything about the charges against her.”

Evin prison is a jail where rights groups say political prisoners are usually taken. Shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution many people viewed as being close to the deposed U.S.-backed shah and others were executed there.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said on Monday it had asked Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to seek information about Saberi from the Iranian authorities but had not yet received any response.

RESEARCH FOR A BOOK

Saberi’s father Reza said from Fargo, North Dakota, on Sunday she 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. Buying alcohol is banned under Iran’s Islamic law.

He confirmed her credentials as a correspondent had been revoked but said she had stayed in Tehran to pursue a master’s degree and was doing research for a book about Iranian society.

Uncertainty about Saberi’s fate follows the detention of four Iranian-Americans who were visiting Iran in 2007, worsening relations between the long-time foes. The four were later released on bail and at least two of them left Iran.

Jamshidi said a travel ban on an Iranian-American student, who was detained last year on security-related charges but later freed on bail, may soon be lifted.

Esha Momeni was detained in October during a visit to Iran from the United States to see family and carry out research on the women’s movement. She was freed after almost four weeks.

“I hope the case will soon be concluded and the restrictions on her departure lifted,” Jamshidi said.

The judiciary has said Momeni was accused of acting against national security and of making propaganda against the Islamic Republic’s system of government, a common charge against Iranian dissidents. Momeni holds dual Iranian and U.S. citizenship.

Writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Peter Millership

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