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Journalist to get fair trial: Iran President

Tehran, April 19 (Agencies): Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said an American journalist sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the US should be allowed to offer a full defence at her appeal, the state news agency reported today.

The statement came a day after Iran announced the conviction and sentence for Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen. It was the first time Iran has found an American journalist guilty of espionage and her lawyer said he would appeal.

Ahmadinejad instructed chief Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi in a letter sent by the President’s chief of staff to personally ensure “suspects be given all their rights to defend themselves” against the charges.

“Prepare for the court proceedings... to observe and apply justice precisely,” the IRNA state news agency quoted the President as saying.

Roxana Saberi’s lawyer welcomed Ahmadinejad’s intervention.

Lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi has said he will appeal the verdict.

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media rights group, called the conviction of Saberi “unjust under the Iranian criminal code” and said her lawyer was not with her when she appeared before the judges for the single hearing on April 13.

IRNA said the letter from Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, to prosecutor Mortazavi dealt with the case of Saberi and that of detained Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan.

“Based on the President’s insistence, please make sure that all the legal stages about the mentioned people be based on justice,” it said.

“And you (Mortazavi) personally make sure that the accused people enjoy all freedoms and legal rights to defend themselves and their rights are not violated,” the letter added.

Saberi’s case has been an irritant in US-Iran relations at a time when President Barack Obama is offering to start a dialogue to break a 30-year-old diplomatic deadlock.

The White House said yesterday that Obama was “deeply disappointed” by Saberi’s conviction. The US has called the charges baseless and said Iran would gain US goodwill if it “responded in a positive way” to the case.

Iran has released few details about the charges. Saberi was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But earlier this month, an Iranian judge levelled a far more serious allegation that she was passing classified information to US intelligence services.

She told her father in a phone conversation that she was arrested after buying a bottle of wine. Her father said she had been working on a book about the culture and people of Iran, and hoped to finish it and return to the US this year.

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