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US journalist's lawyer hopeful after an appeal

AN Iranian court heard the appeal of United States-born journalist Roxana Saberi against her eight-year jail sentence for espionage yesterday and her lawyer said he was optimistic it would be fundamentally changed.

Lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi said the appeals court had ended a one-day session and would issue its verdict in the coming days. Saberi was convicted by a lower court on April 18 of spying for the US.

He said he had asked for his 32-year-old client, who looked thin and tired when she entered the court room, to be released on bail but the court had yet to decide on the request.

The case could complicate Washington's efforts toward reconciliation with Iran after three decades of mutual mistrust.

"The court session was held under good conditions and me and my colleague ... were given adequate time to defend our client," Khorramshahi said.

Saberi had also been given "sufficient opportunity" to defend herself.

"I'm hopeful and optimistic that there will be fundamental changes in the sentence," he said. The lawyer earlier said he expected it to be "substantially" reduced.

Saberi's father Reza was not allowed in to follow the proceedings.

Last week, he said she had ended a two-week hunger strike in Tehran's Evin jail and was "very weak."

The judiciary denied she had refused food and said she was in good health.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has said Saberi's case would be reviewed based on "human and Islamic kindness."

Saberi, a citizen of both the US and Iran, was arrested in late January for working in the Islamic Republic after her press credentials had expired.

She was later charged with espionage, a charge that can carry the death sentence.

The US says the espionage charges against Saberi, a former Miss Dakota who moved to Iran six years ago, were baseless and has demanded her immediate release.


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