Saberi Goes on Hunger Strike, Chicago-Area Students Rally in Support

Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American freelance journalist sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison, begins her hunger strike today as students at her U.S. alma mater rally in her support.

Saberi was arrested in late January on charges of buying alcohol, which later turned into allegations of espionage.

When ABC News' George Stephonopoulos met with Saberi's parents in Tehran Wednesday, Reza and Akiko Saberi said their daughter was in good spirits but that she refused to heed their advice to avoid a hunger strike.

Watch the interview between ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on "This Week" Sunday.

"I tried to dissuade her but she said, 'not this time,'" Reza Saberi told Stephonopoulos. "She is, this time, determined to go on a hunger strike because she says she doesn't deserve to be in there in the prison, she hasn't done anything wrong. She should not be there."

In ABC News' exclusive interview Wednesday, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declined to say whether his government would release Saberi, 31, who has been behind bars for more than two months now.

"I am not a judge, and I do not pass judgment over judicial cases," Ahmadinejad said in the interview with Stephanopoulos at his presidential compound. "In Iran, the judiciary is independent. I have stressed [that], like others, she should be accorded her full rights."

Following Saberi's conviction on Saturday, Ahmadinejad said she should be allowed to offer a full defense during her appeal. Ahmadinejad, who is up for re-election in June, said he will likely make sure she is not abused.

Saberi's parents have hired new lawyers for her appeal, with Iran's Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi said to be joining the case as a defense attorney. Saberi's appeal could be decided within a week.

President Obama has said he is confident that Saberi, whose parents have moved from North Dakota to Tehran since Saberi's arrest, was not involved in any espionage, and that he is "gravely concerned" for her safety.

Ahmadinejad, when asked whether he would release her as a humanitarian, good-will gesture, said, "I think Mr. Obama, as a sign of change and also to encourage friendship, should allow laws to be processed fairly and allow the judiciary to carry out its duties. I am sure she is not being mistreated."

Fact or Fiction?

Saberi's case has the potential of becoming a thorny issue in the already-tense, U.S.-Iran relations, which have shown potential for improvement since the Obama administration came into power and signaled that it wanted to reach out to the Iranian people. Earlier this year, Obama sent a written holiday greeting to Iranians on the holiday of Nowruz. But at the same time, the new U.S. administration has taken issues with Iran's outspoken president. For instance, the United States condemned Ahmadinejad's statements this week criticizing Israel at the U.N. conference on racism in Geneva.

In the interview with Stephonopoulos, Ahmadinejad echoed Obama's calls for a new beginning but would not commit to sitting down and discussing Iran's nuclear program, saying he is waiting for a response from the Obama administration on the letter he sent to the president when he took office in January.

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