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Spy reporter's fiance begs for her release

AN Iranian filmmaker, who said he is engaged to the American journalist jailed in Iran for spying for the United States, defended his fiancee as innocent in an open letter and begged Iran to release her.

The letter by Bahman Ghobadi, circulated by an Iranian human rights group, described 31-year-old Roxana Saberi as an intelligent, hardworking reporter who spent virtually all her time doing research. He also said she had long wanted to leave Iran but stayed for him.

"I am writing this letter for I am worried about her. I am worried about her health. I heard she was depressed and cried all the time. She is very sensitive," Ghobadi said. "My letter is a desperate call to all statesmen and politicians and to all those who can do something to help. ... I beg you, let her go! ... I beg you not to throw her in the midst of your political games!"

Saberi, a dual Iranian-American citizen who was born in the United States, moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance reporter for several news organizations including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp.

She was arrested in January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But an Iranian judge later charged her with passing intelligence to the US - a far more serious allegation. She was convicted of spying last week and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Book research

Her case has been a source of tension between Iran and the US, which has called the charges against her baseless and repeatedly demanded her release. Over the past week Iranian officials sent signals they may be backing down from holding her in prison for the lengthy sentence.

Saberi's brother said he did not know his sister was engaged but said Ghobadi was her close friend. Saberi's Iranian-born father has said his daughter was working on a book about the culture and people of Iran, and hoped to finish it and return to the US this year.

Ghobadi also mentioned her work on the book. "She was always busy reading and doing her research. Nothing else," he wrote. "Roxana's book was a praise to Iran."

Ghobadi, whose films include "A Time for Drunken Horses" and "Half Moon," said he has struggled as a filmmaker in Iran because his movies were banned.


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