US reporter's lawyer 'optimistic'


The lawyer of jailed US-born journalist Roxana Saberi said he was optimistic an Iranian appeals court would fundamentally change her eight-year jail sentence for espionage after it heard the case today.

Lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi said the court was expected to issue its verdict in coming days on the case of Saberi, who was sentenced on April 18th on charges of spying for the United States.

"The court session was held under good conditions and me and my colleague ... were given adequate time to defend our client," he told reporters after the one-day session.

"I'm hopeful and optimistic that there will be fundamental changes in the sentence," Mr Khorramshahi said, adding Saberi had also been given the opportunity to defend herself.

Earlier today, Saberi smiled as she entered the court room accompanied by two security guards.

But the 32-year-old freelance journalist, who has worked for the BBC and US National Public Radio, looked thin and tired, and appeared uncertain about what was taking place.

"Is it today?" she asked, in apparent reference to the appeal session, which was closed to the public.

Her 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".

"I hope the court will find my daughter innocent," Reza Saberi said outside the court building. The 68-year-old moved to the United States in the early 1970s but returned with his Japanese wife Akiko last month to follow their daughter's case.

Saberi, a citizen of both the United States 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.

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has said her conviction was a warning to foreign journalists working in Iran ahead of its presidential election in June.

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

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

Tehran, which does not recognise dual nationality, says Washington should respect the independence of Iran's judiciary.

The two countries are locked in a dispute over nuclear work that the West fears is aimed at making weapons, an allegation that Iran denies.