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Lawyer: Saberi Spy Charge Tied To Copied Report

A lawyer for Roxana Saberi said Tuesday that the American journalist had obtained a confidential Iranian document on the U.S. war in Iraq that became a key piece of evidence for prosecutors at her espionage trial.

Attorney Saleh Nikbakht said Saberi's conviction for spying came in part because she had copied and kept a "confidential bulletin" issued by the Expediency Council, an Islamic clerical body that enjoys close links to the Iranian government.

Nikbakht said Saberi told an appeals court Sunday that she obtained the document two years ago while working as a freelance translator for the council. He noted that while Saberi apologized and admitted to copying the report, she said she did not pass it to the Americans.


Nikbakht gave no details on what was in the document because it remains confidential. He said prosecutors also cited a trip to Israel that Saberi made in 2006, he said. Iran bars its citizens from visiting Israel.

The 32-year-old journalist was arrested Jan. 31. She has said that initially the charge was buying alcohol, a crime in Iran. Later, the charge was changed to espionage.

On April 13, she was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. Over the weekend, a judge reduced and suspended the sentence, opening the door for her release Monday from Tehran's Evin prison.

On Tuesday, Saberi made her first public appearance since leaving prison. She thanked those who helped gain her freedom after she was convicted and spent nearly four months behind bars.

"I'm very happy to be released and to be with my father and mother again," a smiling Saberi told reporters outside her Tehran apartment. "I'm thanking all those people around the world who knew me or who didn't know me but helped my release. Right now, I just want to be with my parents and my friends and to rest a little bit," she said.


Saberi, who has worked as a freelance reporter for NPR, the British Broadcasting Corp., ABC News, Fox and other news organizations, looked thinner after a recent two-week prison hunger strike.

Her father, Reza Saberi, told NPR earlier Tuesday that she was physically unharmed but had suffered "a lot of psychological pressure" during her incarceration.

"She had had a lot of psychological pressure," he said. "There was no physical abuse or anything, but just to be there, to be confined in one room and not to be able to do all the activities that she used to do, it was hard for her."

Reza Saberi said he, his wife, Akiko, and their daughter would be returning to their home in the United States soon.

"Roxana will be at our house in Fargo, N.D., where she will recover. From there, she will decide what to do next," he said, adding, "But for us, the important thing is that she should recover first from this ordeal."

A native of Fargo, Roxana Saberi had been living in Iran for six years. She had allowed her press credentials to expire but continued to file occasional reports for U.S. and British broadcasters while she pursued a university degree and researched a book, according to her parents.

Her case presented the Obama administration with a difficult challenge as it condemned her detention even as it tried to take the first steps toward a rapprochement with Iran's leadership after years of open hostility with Washington.

Reza Saberi said he was surprised at the speed of his daughter's appeal and release. "We were very excited, and it came unexpectedly. We were thinking we would hear something, but not that fast," he told NPR.

For now, he said, his family is celebrating quietly with friends.

When Saberi returns home, she will be greeted by a banner that reads "Free at last" and an American flag, courtesy of one of her former college professors.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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