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Iran leader supports US journalist's appeal

IRAN'S President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said an American journalist sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the United States should be allowed to offer a full defense during her appeal, the state news agency reported yesterday.

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 will appeal.

"Prepare for the court proceedings ... to observe and apply justice precisely," the IRNA state news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. He instructed chief Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi to personally ensure that "suspects be given all their rights to defend themselves" against the charges.

Saberi's case has been an irritant in US-Iran relations at a time when US President Barack Obama is offering to start a dialogue.

A few days before Saberi's sentence was announced Ahmadinejad gave the clearest signal yet that Iran, too, was willing to start a new relationship with the US.

The White House said on Saturday that Obama was "deeply disappointed" by Saberi's conviction.

The US has called the charges against her baseless and the State Department said Iran would gain US goodwill if it "responded in a positive way" to the case.

Saberi's father said his daughter was not allowed a proper defense during her one-day trial behind closed doors a week ago.

He also said she was tricked into making incriminating statements by officials who told her they would free her if she did.

Saberi was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials.

But earlier this month an Iranian judge leveled a far more serious allegation, charging her with spying for the US.

The North Dakota native had been living in Iran for six years and had worked as a freelance reporter for several news organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.


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