Page last updated at 03:51 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 04:51 UK

Profile: Roxana Saberi

When the journalist Roxana Saberi was first arrested in Iran, her family was told it was for buying a bottle of wine - an act banned under the country's Islamic law.

Roxana Saberi as Miss North Dakota
As Miss North Dakota, Roxana Saberi wanted to promote cultural awareness

That was in January 2009. Iranian prosecutors then accused her of working as a journalist without a valid press card.

Finally, in April, she was accused of spying for the US and given an eight-year jail sentence.

On 11 May, the sentence was reduced on appeal to a two-year suspended sentence. She was freed and flew out of Iran four days later.

Between her sentence and release, Ms Saberi went on a two-week hunger strike, which ended after she was briefly hospitalised in the prison clinic.

Since her detention in January, she had been allowed only limited contact with her family - telling them she was not being physically harmed but was finding life difficult in Evin prison, near Tehran.

Diverse heritage

Ms Saberi, 32, was born in the US and grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, the daughter of Reza Saberi, who was born in Iran, and his wife Akiko, who is from Japan.

In 1997 she was chosen as Miss North Dakota and was among the top 10 finalists in Miss America 1998.

When she received her Miss North Dakota title, Ms Saberi said that her aim was to encourage other people to appreciate cultural differences - an ambition that eventually led her into a career in journalism.

She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, with degrees in mass communication and French.

Reza Saberi and his wife Akiko
Ms Saberi's father, Reza, is Iranian and her mother, Akiko, is from Japan

Ms Saberi also holds a master's degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago and another master's degree in international relations from Cambridge University in the UK.

She is currently working on yet another masters degree in Iranian studies.

Ms Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance journalist for various news organisations, including the BBC, before her press credentials were revoked.

Her father said she had been determined to go to Iran, although he had expressed his concerns.

Mr Saberi said that despite losing her press status, his daughter had stayed on to finish a book on Iran and to study. He said she had planned to return to the US later this year.

Shock arrest

But then came her arrest.

The development surprised former BBC Tehran correspondent Frances Harrison, who remembers her as a very careful person.

"She was a very cautious person and the kind of person who wore a headscarf even at diplomatic functions where there were no restrictions," she said.

"She was careful about her reputation, being a young, single woman living in Iran."

She added: "She would know as a journalist that she would be under a lot of scrutiny - her phone would be listened to and she would be watched."

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