Iran Convicts American Journalist of Espionage

Roxana Saberi sentenced to eight years in prison; reported for BBC, NPR and Fox News

Roxana Saberi, the freelance journalist jailed in Iran, has been convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison.

The Iranian-American Saberi, 31, grew up in North Dakota but has been living and working in Iran for the last several years. She has reported for the BBC, NPR and Fox News. She was arrested in January and charged with buying alcohol, which violates Islamic law. She was later charged with working without a valid press credential, which the Iranian government revoked in 2006.

Her trial was conducted swiftly and away from the eyes of impartial observers. Her father, Reza Saberi, was in Iran for the trial last week, but he was not allowed into the courtroom, he told NPR.
He said his daughter was tricked into making self-incriminating statements after being promised release. He also said she is "deeply depressed" and "weak and frail," and has talked of embarking on a hunger strike to protest her conviction. She is being held in Evin Prison in Tehran.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Saturday that President Obama was "deeply disappointed" by the sentencing. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement saying, "We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government."

Saberi's conviction underscores America's lack of influence in Iran. Clinton's office is working through Swiss diplomats to ensure Saberi's well-being. The U.S. has no diplomatic relationship with Iran, though recent overtures by President Obama to open a dialogue with Iran over that country's troubling nuclear program were not immediately shot down by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Saberi's conviction could stymie any proposed talks, which would inevitably pit more moderate government representatives in opposition with radical factions.

Saberi isn't the only American journalist being held by a totalitarian regime. Laura Ling and Euna Lee are being held in North Korea. Lee and Ling, the sister of former View panelist Lisa Ling, were working on a piece for Current TV about the plight of destitute North Korean's fleeing to China. They were arrested by a military patrol on March 17 after allegedly crossing from China into North Korea.

North Korea, which recently launched a long-range rocket, has rebuffed the international community's overtures of diplomacy. As with Iran, the U.S. has no diplomatic relationship with North Korea and has employed Swiss intermediaries to ensure proper treatment of Lee and Ling. The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that the women were charged with "hostile acts" and would be tried and punished. In North Korea, such infractions are typically punished by "education through labor," which means Lee and Ling could be sentenced to five to ten years in a labor camp.