Jailed US journalist may leave Iran next week

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The Independent Online

US-born journalist Roxana Saberi is in good spirits and may leave Iran next week after she was acquitted on charges of spying for the United States, her lawyer said today.

Lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, speaking a day after Saberi's eight-year jail sentence was cut to a two-year suspended term, praised the appeal court's handling of the case as "very just."

He told Reuters the 32-year-old freelance reporter in the court's hearing on Sunday had "accepted she had made a mistake and got access to documents she should not have. But there was no transfer of any classified information."

Her release yesterday removed a snag in US President Barack Obama's attempts to improve US-Iranian relations after three decades of mutual mistrust.

Obama has welcomed as a "humanitarian gesture" Iran's move to free Saberi after more than three months in detention.

Khorramshahi said he had talked to Saberi, who has worked for the BBC and US National Public Radio, earlier on today.

"She is in good spirits. She might be leaving the country sometime next week, but it is not certain as she has some business to take care of," he said. "What is important is that she is not facing any legal restrictions on her departure."

"The change in verdict was the result of a different interpretation of the legal article concerned and not due to political considerations," Khorramshahi said.

Another member of the defense team told the ISNA news agency the court had acquitted her of spying but convicted her under a law covering offences including taking pictures or videos in areas where photography is banned.

Saberi, a citizen of both the United States and Iran, was arrested in January for working in the Islamic Republic after her press credentials had expired. She was later accused of spying, a charge that can carry the death sentence.

The United States had said the spying charges were baseless and demanded her immediate release. Tehran does not recognize dual nationality and told Washington not to interfere.

The two countries were already locked in an acrimonious dispute over Iran's nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at making arms. Iran says it is to generate electricity.

Obama has offered Iran a fresh start in relations, though Iran says Washington must first show real policy change.

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