TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – An Iranian appeals court began a review on Sunday of the case against an American journalist who was convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment for allegedly spying for the United States, her father said.
Roxana Saberi, a 32-year-old dual Iranian-American national, was convicted last month after a one-day trial behind closed doors.
Her father said the court session began, but had no information on the progress so far when he came out of the building for a 30-minute break.
“The session will be continued,” Reza Saberi told reporters. Although he accompanied his daughter to the court house, he was not allowed to enter the room where the closed-door session was being carried out.
The case has caused tensions between the U.S. and Iran at a time when President Barack Obama has said he wants to engage America’s longtime adversary. Washington has called the charges against Saberi baseless and demanded she be freed.
Iran has promised a complete review of the case on appeal and insisted Saberi will be allowed to provide a full defense at that point. Officials have suggested that her prison term could be reduced.
Earlier on Saturday, Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi said the appellate court would hear her case on Sunday, but it remained unclear when it would issue a ruling, the state IRNA news agency reported. He said three judges were reviewing her appeal.
“I believe the ruling by the appeals court will be fair and based on the law,” Jamshidi said. But he also stressed that he could not “predict if she will be acquitted or the current verdict will remain in force.”
The appeals hearing began behind closed doors. Most espionage-related cases in Iran are not open to the public.
Saberi, who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelancer for several news outlets including National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. She had gone on a hunger strike in prison to protest her jailing but ended it earlier this month after two weeks for health reasons.
The former 1997 Miss North Dakota was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But an Iranian judge later leveled the far more serious charge of espionage.
Iran has released few details about her case. Iran’s intelligence minister has said that the initial investigation was done by an expert on security and counterespionage at the Intelligence Ministry before her case was referred to court.
Her Iranian-born father and her mother have traveled from Fargo to Iran to help seek her release. Her father, Reza Saberi, has said his daughter had been working on a book about the culture and people of Iran, and hoped to finish it and return to the United States this year.
The United States broke off ties with Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by hard-line students.