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U.S. journalist goes on hunger strike in Iran prison

Roxana Saberi, who has been sentenced to eight years in prison on spying charges, tells her father that she won't eat until she is freed. The U.S. says she is innocent and wants verdict overturned.

April 26, 2009|Ramin Mostaghim and Jeffrey Fleishman

TEHRAN AND CAIRO — An American journalist convicted by Iran of spying for the U.S. has gone on a hunger strike to protest her eight-year prison sentence, her father said Saturday.

Reza Saberi said his daughter, Roxana, 31, began her hunger strike in Tehran's Evin Prison on Tuesday. She was sentenced last weekend after a one-day trial in which she was found guilty of charges that she had used her role as a reporter to spy for U.S. intelligence services.

"She told me she began her hunger strike five days ago," said Reza Saberi, who arrived in Iran three weeks ago from North Dakota to follow the case. "She might drink, but she doesn't eat anything. She told me she will continue this strike until she gets her freedom.

"Her lawyer went to court today to file her appeal to the charges against her."

The Obama administration has said Saberi is innocent and demanded that her conviction and sentence be overturned. The case has complicated U.S. efforts toward reconciliation with the Islamic Republic, which is in the midst of an election campaign regarded as a battle between moderates and hard-liners linked to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad has indicated that he does not want the Saberi case to detract from negotiations with Washington, most notably over Iran's nuclear program. Ahmadinejad and the country's chief judge have said that Saberi should receive a swift and fair appeal -- a sign that the sentence was the wrong message to send as President Obama is making an effort to improve relations between the two nations.

Some analysts have suggested that the Saberi case was orchestrated by hard-liners opposed to improving ties with the United States. Others have said that Ahmadinejad, a populist conservative, saw the detention of the journalist as a way to test the resolve of the new White House.

Saberi told her father she was detained in January for buying alcohol, which is forbidden in Iran. She was later charged with espionage.

Human rights groups have condemned the verdict. Journalists organizations said the case symbolizes Iran's poor civil rights record and is an attempt to intimidate reporters in the run-up to the June elections.

Saberi had reported as a freelancer for the BBC and National Public Radio, and was working on a book about Iran's culture and politics.


Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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