Page last updated at 17:25 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 18:25 UK

Iran orders 'fair' US spy appeal

Roxana Saberi
Roxana Saberi has spent six years in Iran, studying and writing a book

Iran's judiciary chief has ordered a "quick and fair" appeal for US-Iranian reporter Roxana Saberi, jailed last week for eight years for spying.

Ayatollah Shahrudi said different aspects of the case "should be fairly, accurately and quickly considered".

His order came after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the journalist must have the legal right to defend herself.

US President Barack Obama has expressed concern at the sentencing, handed down after a one-day trial in Tehran.

Ms Saberi, 31, denies any involvement in espionage, and Mr Obama also said she was not a spy and called for her release.

The BBC's Jon Leyne, in Tehran, says it is not clear whether the ayatollah's statement means Ms Saberi will receive clemency, or that the Iranian authorities are merely stressing they are dealing fairly with her case.

Parents' visit

Ms Saberi's parents have visited their daughter in jail for the first time since the sentence was announced.

Her father, Reza Saberi - who says his daughter was tricked into making a confession - said she "seems to be OK".

"We talked about different things," he told AP news agency. "We delivered some books - that was a good news because she likes reading books.

Reza Saberi and his wife Akiko
Ms Saberi's parents say she is looking forward to the appeal

"She said that she is with two other persons, two other ladies over there in the prison and she was looking forward for the appeal because she knew that this kind of verdict was too heavy for her."

Ms Saberi's mother, Akiko, said her daughter could not be a spy.

"No way. She cannot be a spy. Once you know her, she is the last person to do that. She would never do that to anyone."

'Respect court rulings'

Asked about Mr Obama's comments, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference: "It is an international norm that one should respect the rulings issued by the court.

"I recommend that as long as you have not studied the contents of the case one should not just express his views... I'm sure some American officials have also studied law."

Mr Qashqavi went on to say the Iranian authorities respected the defendant's right of appeal.

In his statement, Ayatollah Shahrudi reiterated Mr Qashqavi's point, saying he "emphasised the necessity of access to fair consideration of Roxana Saberi's case, especially at the appeals stage, which is the certain right of the accused".

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

Then, in a period of less than two weeks, the charge of spying was introduced, and she was tried and sentenced behind closed doors by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

Few details of the trial or the specifics of the charges have been released.

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

She has been in jail in Tehran since January.

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