April 18, 2009 -- Roxana Saberi, a Iranian-American freelance journalist based in Iran, was sentenced today to eight years in prison after she was convicted in a closed-door trial of being an American spy.
Saberi had been held in prison for more than two months and the charges against her were changed twice before her trial finally began on Monday.
Her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, told reporters he would appeal the conviction within 20 days.
Saberi was working as a freelance journalist in Iran for NPR, ABC News and other outlets at the time of her arrest, though she lost her government-issued accreditation in 2006.
Initially picked up for buying alcohol, which is a crime in Iran, Saberi was later cited for working as a journalist without legal credentials. Earlier this month, days before her trial, Iranian officials announced the far more serious charges of espionage.
As Saberi's case grew more serious, it escalated as a diplomatic incident, a sore point in the softening relations between Iran and America.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today denounced Saberi's sentence, vowing to "vigorously raise" the issue with Iranian authorities through Swiss diplomats, who represent American interests in Tehran..
"I am deeply disappointed by the reported sentencing of Roxana Saberi by the Iranian judiciary. We are working closely with the Swiss Protecting Presence to obtain details about the court's decision, and to ensure her well being," Clinton said in a statement.
Saberi's parents, who traveled from North Dakota to Iran in hopes of securing her release, were shocked by the sentence announced today.
"Today's verdict was quite shocking for us, we didn't think it could be this harsh," her father, Reza Saberi, told ABC News. "So we are still dizzy with the verdict we don't know why they came up with such a heavy verdict. Our lawyer is going to appeal.
"We don't think that she has done any spying, and and she is a journalist and we are sure that she was never involved in any kind of passing secret information or something to other countries or to the united states or other countries," he said.
Roxana's father expressed concern for her mental health, saying she was planning a hunger strike.
ABC News, Human Rights Groups Call on Iran to Free Roxana Saberi
Besides the appeal process, Saberi could also be released if she is granted a pardon by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's top judicial authority.
ABC News, which employed Saberi on a freelance basis as a radio reporter, issued a statement today calling on the government for her release.
"We are distressed by the sentence of espionage delivered to our colleague Roxana Saberi. There was no evidence of espionage made public and her trial was conducted in secret," the statement said.
Similar calls were issued from human rights groups and journalism advocates.
"The Iranian government should immediately rescind charges against Saberi and release her from prison or prosecute her in a public trail if it can produce convincing evidence against her," said a statement from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based group.
"If the authorities are so sure of the evidence against Saberi why can't they even disclose which laws she has allegedly violated?" ICHRI spokesman Hadi Ghaemi said. "This entire case reveals how standards of justice and due process are being debased."