May 11, 2009--The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the release
today of freelance journalist Roxana Saberi, and called on the Iranian
government to safeguard the rights of several other journalists currently
Saberi, who was initially sentenced
to an eight-year prison term for espionage on April 18, was released from Tehran's Evin Prison today
after an appeals court reduced her punishment to a two-year suspended sentence.
Although exact details about the charges against Saberi remain unknown, the BBC
reported that the initial charge of "passing secret information" had been
reduced to "having access to classified information," allowing for the commuted
sentence. Saberi was also banned from reporting from Iran for five years.
Saberi's father and lawyer both confirmed that she had left
the prison with her family earlier today and was headed to an unknown location
in Tehran, according
to international news reports. Her father told the press that she would be
leaving the country in the coming days.
"We are pleased that Roxana Saberi has been released from
prison and hope that other imprisoned journalists in Iran are also given the
opportunity defend themselves and receive due process under the law," said CPJ Executive
Director Joel Simon.
Saberi, 32, an Iranian-American freelance reporter, was
in January, although she was not charged with a crime. She told her father that
she was held for buying a bottle of wine. A spokesman for Iran's Foreign
Ministry said later that Saberi was being detained for reporting without proper
accreditation. In early April, Iranian authorities finally charged
Saberi with espionage, but did not release any additional information or
evidence about the charges Saberi was facing.
Throughout Saberi's ordeal, CPJ mounted a vigorous
international campaign calling on Tehran to free the
imprisoned journalist. CPJ released a background
paper detailing the legal particularities of the case, circulated a petition
calling for Saberi's release that garnered more than 10,000 signatures, and
along with 34 other international press freedom groups called
on Iran's judiciary to release her.
"Press freedom must be protected at all times, but
additional vigilance is necessary as journalists cover the impending
presidential elections scheduled for June," said CPJ
Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. "The Iranian
government must ensure that journalists are allowed to operate freely as they
report on the upcoming elections."
At least five other journalists were imprisoned in Iran when CPJ conducted its annual
census on December 1, 2008. Since that time, CPJ has documented the cases of two
additional journalists: One, Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger,
remains in detention
and another, Omidreza Mirsayafi, died
in prison in March under suspicious circumstances.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The first paragraph has been changed to clarify
that several journalists are currently behind bars in Iran.