By: ALI AKBAR DAREINI
An Iranian appeals court will hear the case of an American journalist convicted of spying for the United States next week, the judiciary spokesman said Tuesday.
Roxana Saberi, whose father says she has been on a hunger strike for two weeks, was convicted last month of passing intelligence to the U.S. and sentenced to eight years in prison after a closed, one-day trial.
There were signs that Iran was making an effort to conduct the appeal more openly than the trial itself, which was only revealed days after the fact, took place behind closed doors and, according to the journalist’s father, lasted only about 15 minutes.
In announcing the appeal hearing, judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi, told a news conference that Iran would open the proceedings to experts from the country’s bar association.
“Her case has been referred to an appeals court where it is being studied. A date has been set for next week,” Jamshidi said, without specifying the exact date.
The case has been a source of tension between Washington and Iran at a time when the Obama administration has said it wants to engage its longtime adversary. The United States has described the accusations against Saberi, a dual Iranian-American citizen who was born in the U.S. and raised in Fargo, North Dakota, as baseless and called for her release.
Appearing to want to lower the tensions, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has asked judicial authorities to ensure Saberi is allowed a full defense at the appeal, and Iranian officials have several times reiterated that call for a full review of the case.
Jamshidi denied assertions by Saberi’s father that she was on a hunger strike and was briefly hospitalized on Friday in Evin prison, where she has been held since her arrest in January.
The woman’s father, Reza Saberi, said she began a hunger strike April 21 and that she was weak. Reporters Without Borders said on Monday that the father told the press freedom group that the 32-year-old journalist was taken Friday to a prison clinic after she intensified her hunger strike to refuse water in addition to food.
The group said she was released from the clinic after again drinking water.
“She is in good health and not on a hunger strike. Physically, she is in good shape too,” Jamshidi said Tuesday.
Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance journalist for news organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.
Iranian authorities had initially accused her of working without press credentials, but later made the more serious espionage charge.