US-Iranian reporter on trial in Iran

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The Independent Online

An Iranian-American journalist has gone on trial in Iran for spying for the United States and a verdict is expected soon, the judiciary said today.

Washington says the charges against Roxana Saberi, who has reported for the BBC, National Public Radio and other media, are baseless and has demanded her immediate release.

"The first trial meeting on Roxana Saberi was held yesterday ... I think the verdict will be announced soon, perhaps in the next two or three weeks," judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi told a news conference.

Under Iran's penal code, espionage can carry the death penalty. Iran last year executed an Iranian businessman convicted of spying on the military for Israel.

Saberi, 31, is a citizen of both the United States and Iran, but Tehran does not recognise dual nationality. Last week, Iranian media said Saberi had been charged with espionage on behalf of the United States.

Jamshidi said Saberi, a freelance reporter who was born in the United States, had submitted the last defence arguments on her case. She was arrested in late January for working in Iran after her press credentials had expired.

The new US administration of President Barack Obama has offered a "new beginning" of engagement with the Islamic Republic after three decades of mutual mistrust.

The United States said the charges against Saberi were "baseless and without foundation".

Freedom House, a US human rights group, said last week the case was the latest in a string of attacks on press freedom in Iran, which rejects such accusations.

Jamshidi said: "Giving an opinion on a case, by an individual or a government, without being informed about the facts in it, is utterly ridiculous."

Iran's deputy prosecutor for security issues, Hassan Haddad, was quoted last week as saying Saberi had confessed to taking part in espionage activities.

Washington cut ties with Tehran shortly after the Islamic revolution in 1979 but Obama has offered to extend a hand of peace if Iran "unclenches its fist".