Iran\’s judiciary says it has ordered a “quick and fair” appeal for US-Iranian reporter Roxana Saberi, who was sentenced last week to eight years in jail as a US spy.
“The different aspects of this case… should be fairly, accurately and quickly considered in appeal proceedings,” judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi was quoted as saying in a statement obtained by AFP.
Saberi, 31, was convicted by an Iranian revolutionary court during a closed-door trial last week of spying for the United States, which along with Israel is Tehran\’s main foe.
But in an unprecedented move on Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for “justice” for Saberi and said she should be given the right to defend herself. The eight-year jail term for Saberi is the harshest sentence yet for a dual national on security charges in Iran. The charge of spying can carry the death penalty.
Foreign ministry spokemsan Hassan Ghashghavi also denied on Monday that Saberi was being used as a bargaining chip in any talks with Washington or to try to secure the release of Iranian diplomats held by US forces in Iraq.
“The issue of our diplomats is a whole different matter from the trial of an Iranian national such as Ms Saberi,” Ghashghavi told reporters.
He also said that Saberi, a former US beauty queen with both Iranian and US citizenship, would have no consular access to the Swiss embassy, which represents American interests in Tehran.
“We act according to our laws concerning Iranian citizens.
She is an Iranian national and she has had full access to a lawyer,” he said.
Iran does not recognise dual nationality.
His comments came after Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz raised Saberi\’s case during a meeting Ahmadinejad on Sunday in Geneva, where the Iranian president is due to speak at a controversial racism conference.
The United States severed ties with Iran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution but new US President Barack Obama has been calling for dialogue with Tehran.
The United States has led international concern about the conviction of Saberi, who was initially detained in January accused of buying alcohol, an illegal act in the Islamic republic.
Obama, who has voiced “deep disappointment” over the verdict against Saberi, denied on Sunday denied that she was a spy and demanded her release.
Saberi, who is also of Japanese descent, has reported for US National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News, and has been living in Iran for the past six years.
In March, the foreign ministry said Saberi\’s press card was revoked in 2006 and that she had since been working in Iran “illegally.”
Ahmadinejad on Sunday told the Tehran prosecutor to examine the cases against both Saberi and Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who has been behind bars since November on charges of insulting Shiite imams.
“You must do what is needed to secure justice… in examining these people\’s charges,” his chief of staff said in a letter to prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi.
“Take care that the defendants have all the legal freedoms and rights to defend themselves against the charges.”
The US military in Iraq raided the Iranian liaison office in the Kurdish northern city of Arbil in January 2007, seizing five men. Iran insists they were diplomats and has repeatedly called for their release.
Two were freed in November 2007 but US forces are still holding three men.