Page last updated at 19:35 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 20:35 UK

Reporter Saberi leaves Iran jail


Roxana Saberi was embraced by her mother after her release

The US-Iranian journalist jailed in Iran, Roxana Saberi, has been freed from prison after having her sentence for spying reduced.

Lawyers for Ms Saberi, 31, whose imprisoning sparked a global outcry, said she left Tehran's Evin jail hours after her eight-year term was cut.

She will be able to leave the country but has been banned from working as a journalist in Iran for five years.

The White House welcomed the release as a "humanitarian gesture".

Ms Saberi was convicted of spying for the US in April but denied the charge.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent says the charge against her was reduced on appeal to one carrying a lesser sentence.

The case sparked international attention and protests calling for Roxana Saberi to be released.

Hillary Clinton: 'We are very heartened that she has been released'

US President Barack Obama, who has taken a more conciliatory approach to Iran than his predecessor, was among those who appealed on her behalf.

"He was relieved to see that Roxana Saberi has been released," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

"We know this has been a trying time for her family and friends and he looks forward to welcoming her home to the United States. We want to continue to stress that she was wrongly accused but we welcome this humanitarian gesture."

During her time in jail the Obama administration described the allegations against Ms Saberi as "baseless".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was "heartened" by the decision but said the US continued to "take issue" with the charges.

'Very happy'

There was also concern from within Iran: her partner, film director Bahman Ghobadi - whose work has won prizes in Cannes and Berlin - said Ms Saberi was a victim of Iran's "political games".

Her lawyer, Abdolsama Khorramshahi, told reporters in Tehran that Ms Saberi's father, Reza Saberi, confirmed the news of her release.

January 2009: Arrested for buying a bottle of wine. Later charged with working illegally as a journalist
8 April: Accused of spying
18 April: Sentenced to eight years in jail
20 April: Goes on hunger strike for two weeks
10 May: Appeal heard
11 May: Freed from jail

The AFP news agency quoted her as saying: "I'm OK. I don't want to make any comments but I am OK."

Speaking after escorting his daughter to an undisclosed location in the city, Mr Saberi said she was doing well. He implied that they would make a swift return to the US, where he moved from Iran during the 1970s.

The family lives in Fargo, North Dakota, where Ms Saberi was crowned Miss North Dakota in 1997.

"We will go back as soon as possible," he told Reuters news agency. "We are very happy."

Ms Saberi recently ended a two-week hunger strike and was said to have looked thin and tired during her court appearance on Sunday.

'Fair and open'

That appeal hearing lasted five hours - far longer than the original hour-long trial.

Before it began Ms Saberi was allowed a half-hour meeting with Mr Khorramshahi.

Undated photo released by the family of imprisoned Iranian-American shows journalist Roxana Saberi in Tehran, Iran
Details of the evidence against Ms Saberi have not been made public

Some accounts of the hearing said Ms Saberi - looking a little bewildered - had visibly lost weight from the two-week hunger strike.

Details of the evidence against her have still not been made public, and it is not clear why the appeal hearing was brought forward.

Unlike her original trial, the legal process this time was arranged to appear fair and open, our correspondent in Tehran says.

As well as a reduced jail sentence, the charge against Ms Saberi was changed from one of passing secret information to a lesser count of having access to classified information, he adds.

Closed trial

Ms Saberi was held in Tehran's Evin prison following her arrest in January.

The journalist originally faced a less serious accusation of buying alcohol, and later of working as a reporter without a valid press card.

Several Iranian journalists remain jailed today. We urge they be given the same opportunity for judicial review
Committee to Protect Journalists

The spying charge was introduced soon afterwards, and she was tried and sentenced behind closed doors by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

Ms Saberi, who holds dual US and Iranian citizenship, has spent six years in Iran studying and writing a book.

She has worked as a freelance journalist for news organisations including the BBC and the US-based National Public Radio.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based rights group, said it was "thrilled" as Ms Saberi's release, but urged consideration for Ms Saberi's fellow journalists in Iran.

"Several Iranian journalists remain jailed today. We urge they be given the same opportunity for judicial review that was afforded to Roxana Saberi," said Joel Simon, the group's executive director.

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